MASERU — In the end it was the prosecution’s resilience that prevailed.
After three years of a drama-filled trial, two government officials accused of taking bribes from a German firm in the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) scandal will now do time in prison.
Some 23 months ago it looked like Reatile Mochebelele, who was Lesotho’s chief representative in the LHWP, and Letlafuoa Molapo, the other government delegate to the project, were going to walk scot-free from the bribery charges.
The two were accused of receiving M1.2 million worth of bribes from Lahmeyer International, a German engineering consultancy firm involved in Lesotho’s biggest water project.
Indeed it appeared Lesotho’s most prominent corruption trial had been closed when, on a sunny February 5 afternoon last year, High Court judge Thamsanqa Nomncongo delivered a “not guilty” verdict.
It was a wrong assumption because a few months later Mochebelele and Molapo were back in court, this time round fending off the prosecution’s appeal against their acquittal.
The result was an astounding blow to the pair’s quest for freedom.
The Court of Appeal overturned the acquittal in October last year and instead found the duo guilty and tasked the High Court to deliver sentence.
In July this year the High Court sentenced Mochebelele to 10 years in prison or a M1 million fine.
Molapo was slapped with a two-year prison sentence or a M200 000 fine.
They paid the fines and for once it looked like the matter had been finally closed.
But the prosecution took the fight back to the Court of Appeal arguing that the sentences were too lenient and that the two should get custodial sentences.
In the appeal, the prosecution said the fines were not punishment enough because the M1.2 million the two had paid as fines was equivalent to the bribes they had been convicted of receiving between 1989 and 1999.
The fines, the state argued, meant that Mochebelele and Molapo had merely paid off what they were found to have received in bribes.
A special sitting of the Court of Appeal on Thursday agreed with the prosecution to deliver a verdict that brought Mochebelele and Molapo’s battle for freedom to an abrupt end.
The two will do time in prison.
“Accused 1 (Mochebelele) is sentenced to 10 years imprisonment of which five years are suspended for three years on condition that the accused forfeits the amount of M800 000 from the sum of M1 million,” the judgment said.
Another condition is that Mochebelele should not be convicted of an offence involving dishonesty during the period of suspension.
If he is convicted of dishonesty during the suspension period he will serve 10 years in jail instead.
Mochebelele was not in court when the judgment was delivered but
Molapo was there when sentence was passed.
“Accused 2 (Molapo) is sentenced to six years imprisonment of which 18 months are suspended for three years on condition that the accused forfeits the amount of M200 000,” said the judgment.
He had already paid M200 000 as a fine imposed by the High Court.
For Molapo to further shorten his jail term he should raise another M200 000, the judgment said.
“A further 18 months are suspended for three years on condition that the accused pays a further amount of M200 000 to the crown by not later than 31st December 2010,” the ruling said.
“The suspended periods of imprisonment are subject to the further condition that the accused is not convicted of an offence involving dishonesty committed during the period of suspension and in respect of which he is sentenced to imprisonment without the option of a fine.”
The means if he pays M200 000 he will spend three years in prison.
Molapo has already started serving his sentence after being taken in on Thursday afternoon.
Police are now looking for Mochebelele.
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