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Govt breathes fire over disgraced diplomats

  • promises tough disciplinary measures against rogue diplomats who have embarrassed the country,
  • says it has been cleaning up the diplomatic mess inherited from the previous Thabane govt.

Pascalinah Kabi

THE government will take tough disciplinary measures against seven embassy officials and five of their spouses who have caused a “serious diplomatic headache” for the country with their embarrassing expulsion from South Africa. They were expelled for illegally trading in alcohol.

This according to Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister ‘Matšepo Ramakoae. Her remarks, in a weekend interview with the Sunday Express, follow the South African government’s Thursday decision to kick out the seven diplomats and five spouses. They were expelled from the neighbouring country for abusing their diplomatic privileges to engage in the illegal sale of alcohol. Prior to their expulsion, the South African Revenue Service (SARS) claimed that it had uncovered a tax-dodging racket, in which the diplomats would buy large volumes of alcohol at duty-free retailers and then sell it locally.

According to SARS, the scheme cheated the tax collector of an estimated R100 million a month.

The seven expelled diplomats include former legislator, Teboho Letseka. Mr Letseka is Health Minister Semano Sekatle’s the son-in-law. He is the Consular Attaché at the Lesotho High Commission in South Africa.

Six other diplomats who have been expelled are Malika Sylviah Molapo-Mphofe (Counsellor), Keketso Halio Makhupane (First Secretary), Molefi John Matsoso (Assistant Attaché), Jane Lekunya (Third Secretary), ‘Malebohang Jane (Attaché administration) and Ketso Pitrose Kalake (Attaché’s driver).

They were expelled along with Cephas Kolouoane Jane (husband to Ms Jane), Mathato Joyce Kalake (wife to Mr Kalake), ‘Makhotso Angelinah Matsoso (wife to Mr Matsoso), Limakatso Mafelesi (wife to Mr LJ Ralebesi-Consular Attaché in Durban) and Makagiso Anicia Mabeleng (wife to Mr K Mabeleng- Consular Attaché in Johannesburg).

The 12 are named in a 10 June 2021 letter by the South African High Commission to Lesotho’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations.

“The High Commission of the Republic of South Africa presents its compliments to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations of the Kingdom of Lesotho, and has the honour to transit a copy of the attached Note Verbale (diplomatic note) from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation to the High Commission of Lesotho in the Republic of South Africa dated 10 June 2021, for the attention of the esteemed Ministry,” the letter states.

The attached Note Verbale accuses the diplomats and their spouses of abusing their diplomatic privileges in South Africa.

“The Department of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic of South Africa has the honour to notify the mission that a number of diplomats and their dependents have abused their diplomatic privileges.

“The Department hereby informs the (Lesotho) High Commission that due to the abuse of their diplomatic privileges the following diplomats and their dependent are declared Persona Non Grata (unwelcome persons) in the Republic of South Africa,” the Note Verbale states.

It further states that the diplomats and spouses were ordered to leave South Africa within 72 hours. The 72 hours were from Thursday, meaning that they should have left by yesterday latest.

“The (Lesotho) mission must ensure that the diplomatic identity cards of the diplomats, their dependents and private servants are returned to the Department (of International Relations) within three days for cancellation.

“Their passports should be submitted to the Department with immediate effect in order for the Temporary Residence Visas to be cancelled and to issue them with exit visas. Diplomatic vehicles should also be deregistered,” the Note Verbale states.

A livid Ms Ramakoae told this publication that the expulsion of the diplomats and their spouses had caused a serious diplomatic headache for Lesotho. She said tough disciplinary measures will soon be taken against them.

“I don’t know what to say except that we are deeply embarrassed,” said Ms Ramakoae, adding that the diplomats were appointed during the previous Thomas Thabane-led government.

She said has also had to deal with diplomatic gaffes by officials of the previous government including her predecessor, Lesego Makgothi, who sparked a local and international outcry by announcing last year that Lesotho had abandoned its long-held support for Western Sahara’s right to independence from Morocco. He said Lesotho had now adopted what he described as “constructive neutrality” on the issue.

“You will remember that when I first became minister, there was the Morocco- Western Sahara matter which I urgently attended to by withdrawing statements that were made by the previous minister. I had to write to all affected countries and the African Union to apologise on behalf of the country. If it wasn’t for Covid-19, the Honourable Prime Minister (Moeketsi Majoro) would have dispatched me to those countries to state Lesotho’s correct position on the issue.

“These are some of the diplomatic embarrassments that Lesotho has endured. So, I can only say that we are deeply embarrassed, especially as these (expelled) diplomats were commissioned by His Majesty King Letsie III to represent the country,” Ms Ramakoae said.

She said diplomats enjoyed diplomatic immunity and were not arrested when they committed crimes in host countries in line with the provisions of the Vienna Convention.

“They are treated with respect in their host countries but they have deeply embarrassed us,” Ms Ramakoae said.

She said Lesotho government first became aware of the involvement of Lesotho diplomats in illicit alcohol sale in April this year when South Africa issued a media alert that it was losing M100 million per month to illicit alcohol sale by diplomats from Lesotho, Ghana, Malawi, Burundi and other African countries.

“They buy alcohol (tax free) and resell it,” Ms Ramakoae said.

“Some of them have literally opened places where they sell alcohol from while others take it and sell it to liquor retailers. Upon learning about the alleged illegal liquor trade, we then asked South Africa about the issue. We were informed that there were ongoing investigations and they would inform us of their findings.

“Now we have been informed that they are Persona Non Grata.

“This means that they are no longer wanted and must never set foot in that country. South Africa has done that to all countries whose diplomats are involved in illicit alcohol sale. Those from Lesotho will start arriving today (Friday) and tomorrow (Saturday),” Ms Ramakoae said.

She warned of disciplinary measures against the rogue diplomats.

“We must take disciplinary measures against them in order for us to keep our warm diplomatic relations with South Africa. Besides that, the Public Service regulations clearly state that disciplinary measures must be taken against anyone who commits a crime. Once we have all the necessary information and documents, we will go ahead with the disciplinary proceedings and the media will be duly informed of the outcomes,” Ms Ramakoae said.

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