MURDER and attempted murder-accused former army commander, Tlali Kamoli, former Defence and National Security minister, Tšeliso Mokhosi and other members of the security agencies have been slammed by senior judicial officers for coming up with “baffling, frivolous new demands” to stall the commencement of their high profile trials.
Just when it appeared that the long-awaited criminal trials of Lieutenant General Kamoli, Mr Mokhosi and other members of the security agencies would finally get underway, the cases stalled yet again last week.
This after an application that was lodged in the Court of Appeal by Lieutenant General Kamoli, Mokhosi and the others demanding that the state assumes responsibility for paying their legal fees.
Zimbabwean judge Justice Charles Hungwe has set 21 August 2019 as the date for hearing the application. Some senior judicial officers said the application that has been described as “highly unusual” by Justice Hungwe is merely a time-wasting strategy by the suspects in the hope that the embattled Thomas Thabane-led governing coalition will soon collapse and its place taken by a more sympathetic government that will drop the charges against the high profile suspects.
This is not the first time Lt-Gen Kamoli has asked the state to pay his legal bills. In September last year, he wrote to the Attorney General’s office demanding M5 million for his legal costs but was rebuffed.
This particular move to have the state assume responsibility for paying his and other suspects’ legal fees was first raised in the appeal court by Lt-Gen Kamoli, Mr Mokhosi and fellow suspects when they appeared before Justice Hungwe in June 2019. At the time, the judge merely described the request as highly unusual.
“When one cannot afford a lawyer, he or she informs the registrar who will then provide legal representation under pro deo representation. The registrar will then choose a lawyer who the state will pay on the accused’s behalf,” Justice Hungwe said in June.
But when the issue was raised again as an application during last week’s pre-trial conference, Justice Hungwe, who still maintained that the application was unheard of, set 21 August 2019 as the date for hearing the application.
“The plea to have the state take over the payment of your lawyers’ costs will be consolidated with the similar requests which have already been placed before this court and the matter will be heard on 21 August,” Justice Hungwe said.
Justice Hungwe said this on Friday while presiding over the pre-trial conference of Major Pitso Ramoepana and others who are accused of murdering army commander, Lt-Gen Khoantle Motšomotšo on 5 September 2017.
Justice Hungwe also ordered the crown and defence counsels to file their heads of argument by 16 August 2019.
But the latest claims by Kamoli and his co-accused are widely seen as a ruse in a string of claims to delay their trial for as long as possible in the hope that the Thomas Thabane coalition collapses and a new government sets them free.
Lt-Gen Kamoli retired from the army on 1 December 2016 under immense pressure from Lesotho’s regional and international development partners who demanded an end to the impunity and human rights abuses that occurred during his tenure at the helm of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF).
He was subsequently arrested in September 2017 on murder and attempted murder charges which include the June 2015 assassination of former army commander, Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao.
At the time of his forced retirement, Lt-Gen Kamoli is said to have received a multi-million maloti golden handshake.
But he is now pleading poverty, apparently over his mounting legal woes.
The news of Lt-Gen Kamoli and his co-accused’s alleged financial woes was revealed by one of their lawyers, Advocate Napo Mafaesa, when they appeared in the High Court over Lt-Gen Mahao’s murder.
“The accused have written to the registrar of this court (Pontšo Phafoli) asking to be assisted financially regarding their legal representation but we have not yet received a response from the registrar,” Adv Mafaesa told Justice Hungwe.
But senior officers in the judiciary recently told the Sunday Express that Lt-Gen Kamoli and other suspects, who have previously complained of delays in trying them, are only pleading poverty as part of a well-orchestrated plan to delay the start of their trials until a new sympathetic government takes over and frees them.
“They (Kamoli, Mokhosi and others) know that they cannot hire their own lawyers and wake up one day and decide that the state must take over the payment of their legal costs,” said one senior judicial officer.
“The normal practice is that suspects who cannot pay their own legal fees apply to the state which assigns them lawyers in terms of the pro deo arrangement. It is only under such circumstances where there is a prior agreement that the state can pay the suspects’ legal costs.”
Another judicial officer said, “This is just another delaying tactic by the accused to stall their trials in the hope that the government will collapse and the successor regime drops their charges”.
“The idea is that when they lose this case, they will file an appeal and that means the criminal trials will be further delayed and wait until the Court of Appeal sits in its next session in October this year.
“They first stalled the trials in February this year when they challenged the appointment of foreign judges to preside over their cases.
One of the prosecution’s lawyers, Advocate Naki Nku, was diplomatic when asked about the latest application by Lt-Gen Kamoli and others.
“It is the constitutional right of the accused to fight whatever issue they believe compromises their rights to a fair trial so I cannot say whether they are doing so to stall their trials.
“However, if they lose the case and then file an appeal, we will not wait for the October session of the Court of Appeal. We will ask for a special sitting of the appeal court to hear their appeal as these matters have to be dealt with urgently. We have done that before when we wrote to the Court of Appeal president (Justice Kananelo Mosito) and that is why there was a special sitting of the Court of Appeal from 22 to 26 July which cleared the way for the high profile trials to begin,” Adv Nku said.
After the pre-trial conferences that got underway from Monday to Friday 9 August 2019, it is anticipated that the full trials will go on for at least 18 months and consequently the suspects will be saddled with huge legal fees for the services of high profile lawyers that include King’s Counsels, attorneys and advocates.
Some of the prominent lawyers representing Lt-Gen Kamoli and other soldiers are King’s Counsels Zwelakhe Mda, Motiea Teele and Karabo Mohau. They have also been calling on the services of Attorney Qhalehang Letsika and Advocates Letuka Molati and Napo Mafaesa among others. Adv Nku told this publication that under the pro deo arrangement in Lesotho, the state paid lawyers M400 a day for representing suspects and prominent lawyers such as King’s Counsels, attorneys and advocates found this amount too little for their liking as they command much higher fees.
There are nine high profile murder trials that are expected to be presided over by the foreign judges.
Lt-Gen Kamoli faces a murder charge in connection with the June 2015 killing of army commander, Lt-Gen Mahao. In the matter he is co-accused with Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Captain Haleo Makara, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Sergeant Motsamai Fako, Corporal Marasi ‘Moleli, Corporal Motšoane Machai, Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko and Corporal Tšitso Ramoholi.
Former National Security Services (NSS) director and head of Military Intelligence, Tumo Lekhooa, was also roped in among the accused, but however he has not attended any court session since he fled the country last year.
Lt-Gen Kamoli also faces a murder charge stemming from the 30 August 2014 killing of Police Sub-Inspector, Mokheseng Ramahloko.
Sub-Inspector Ramahloko was shot and killed by soldiers during the attempted coup of 30 August 2014 at the Police Headquarters in Maseru. The soldiers who allegedly acted on the instructions of the then army commander, Lt-Gen Kamoli, also raided several other police stations in Maseru and seized an assortment of weapons.
Lt-Gen Kamoli and others face attempted murder charges in connection with the 27 January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the Moshoeshoe II homes of First Lady, ‘Maesaiah Thabane, and the Ha Abia residence of former police commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana.
In this case, Lt-Gen Kamoli is charged alongside Major Pitso Ramoepane, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Sergeant Heqoa Malefane and Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko.
Mr Mokhosi on the other hand is accused together with former police commissioner Molahlehi Letsoepa of murdering Police Constable Mokalekale Khetheng in 2016.
The duo is charged alongside four other police officers. The other officers are Senior Superintendent Thabo Tšukulu, Superintendent Mothibeli Mofolo, Inspector Mabitle Matona and Police Constable Haleokoe Taasoane who are all currently on suspension from the police service.
Ten soldiers are also accused of murdering the three men in Maseru in 2017.
The 10 soldiers are Brigadier Rapele Mphaki, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Captain Mahlehle Moeletsi, Lance Corporal Mahlomola Makhoali, Private Nthatakane Motanyane, Motšoane Machai, Tieho Tikiso, Pitso Ramoepana, Liphapang Sefako and Nemase Faso.
The soldiers allegedly kidnapped and murdered the three men after the trio had just been released from police custody where they were detained in connection with a shooting incident that occurred at the Maseru border gate on 13 May 2017.
Three foreign judges, namely Justice Hungwe and the Botswana duo of Justices Onkemetse Bashi Tshosa and Kabelo Kenneth Lebotse have been recruited to preside over Lt-Gen Kamoli, Mr Mokhosi and other high profile trials involving serving and former members of the security agencies.
But the judicial officers say that Lt-Gen Kamoli and his co-accused are banking on the success of the no confidence motion in ousting Dr Thabane’s government and the advent of another regime that will free them.