MURDER-ACCUSED First Lady ’Maesaiah Thabane was unprocedurally released on Wednesday before paying a M1000 bail deposit, the Sunday Express has learnt. A receipt from the judiciary’s account office shows that she only paid the bail deposit on Thursday, a day after her release from prison where she had been remanded over charges of murdering her husband Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s second wife, Lipolelo. (See story on page 2).
The belated payment of the bail deposit only added to the controversy surrounding her release on bail by Acting Chief Justice ’Maseforo Mahase who has previously been accused of biased judgements in favour of Dr Thabane in his battle for control of the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) with his deputy, Professor Nqosa Mahao.
Shortly after being charged and remanded in custody on Wednesday by Maseru Magistrate, Nthabiseng Moopisa, Ms Thabane was controversially granted bail a few hours later by Justice Mahase. According to authoritative judicial sources, the bail application was supposed to have been heard by the judge on call for bail applications and other urgent applications as per practice. That judge on call last week was Justice Keketso Moahloli, not Justice Mahase.
The week before it had been Justice Tseliso Monapathi. The sources said contrary to practice, Justice Mahase decided to hear the case herself and granted the First Lady bail despite spirited opposition from the State which had argued that Mrs Thabane was a flight risk as she had already skipped the country after she had been called in for questioning. Now that she had been formally charged, she would have reason to abscond permanently, the State had argued.
As if that was not controversial enough, it has since emerged that Ms Thabane’s bail was only paid on Thursday a day after she had been released.
Prominent legal practitioner, Advocate Letuka Molati, criticised Justice Mahase for presiding over Ms Thabane’s bail application, saying she should not have involved herself as this could be construed as her way of repaying Dr Thabane for recommending that she appointed substantive chief justice in place of Justice Nthomeng Majara who agreed to go after being suspended by the premier in September 2018.
“The First Lady’s release was premature and wrong. It should not have been done by Acting Chief Justice ’Maseforo Mahase who already has a deal with Prime Minister Thomas Thabane that she be confirmed in her acting position,” Adv Molati said in an interview with the Sunday Express yesterday.
“This is absolutely wrong and the bail receipt shows that some judiciary officers have abdicated their responsibilities to please others and gain something in return. She should not have been released because she had not satisfied the bail conditions. Her release was premature.
“Any judge could have presided over that case and besides the law is very much against cases being heard in chambers as there has to be transparency at all times. Justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done hence the case should have been heard in an open court.”
Adv Molati said due process was not followed in the case, adding, “The big question is why was there this particular treatment for the First Lady when other clients in a similar position were denied bail? Why her in particular?
“When a judge has listened to both parties in a matter and is convinced that the accused is a flight risk the bail should be denied but this couldn’t be the case as we know that the Prime Minister is still trying to get Acting Chief Justice Mahase to be confirmed as the new Chief Justice. For that reason, Justice Mahase is highly conflicted. Any other judge could have heard this application.
“It really defies logic how Ms Thabane who fled from justice and then comes back is granted bail. This sets a bad precedence,” said Adv Molati whose clients include murder-accused former army commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli.
Among others, Lt-Gen Kamoli is accused of the June 2015 murder of army commander, Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao. Lt-Gen Kamoli is languishing in remand prison having been denied bail since his arrest in October 2017.
Ms Thabane’s bail conditions are that she attends remands once every month, does not interfere with crown witnesses and stands trial to finality.
Meanwhile, Lesotho Correctional Service Spokesperson, Superintendent Neo Mopeli, said there was nothing amiss about the LCS releasing Ms Thabane late on Wednesday.
“When a court directs that a person be released, it doesn’t matter what time it is. Ours is to comply and do as told.
“It’s not fixed as to when a person may be released or locked up,” Supt Mopeli said.