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Maseribane off the hook

…as DCEO clears him of alleged corruption in his dealings with British tycoon

’Marafaele Mohloboli

THE Directorate of Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) has cleared the Basotho National Party (BNP) leader, Chief Thesele Maseribane, of alleged corruption after the latter was accused of receiving bribes from the controversial British tycoon Aron Banks.

Mr Banks has in recent months come under serious criticism in his home country for allegedly bribing government officials in Lesotho to secure a diamond prospecting licence.

The DCEO began investigating Chief Maseribane in July this year after the British media reported that more than M1 million was transferred by Mr Banks to his personal account held with a South African Bank in 2013 and 2014.

The BBC queried why the funds were transferred to Chief Maseribane’s personal account and he said he enjoyed a good friendship with Mr Banks.

The BBC report also said Mr Banks also paid Chief Maseribane’s rentals while he was in exile in South Africa.

While both Mr Banks and Chief Maseribane confirmed the transactions, they refuted that the money was meant to influence the government into granting him a diamond prospecting licence in 2014. The BBC also said Mr Banks refuted Dr Thabane’s claims that he funded the latter.

Mr Banks is popularly known for bankrolling Britain’s exit from the European Union which has now been coined “Brexit”.

Previous reports have linked him with Chief Maseribane’s Basotho National party (BNP) whose campaigns he has previously funded to a reported £350 000 in 2012.

The BBC report indicates that while he was applying for a diamond prospecting licence in 2013 and 2014, Mr Banks transferred £65 000 (about M1 162 192) into Chief Maseribane’s personal bank account.

Part of the money, £16 000 was transferred a few weeks before his prospecting licence was granted.

At the time that the transactions were made, Chief Maseribane was Minister of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation.

Mr Banks transferred £16 000 to Chief Maseribane just weeks before his prospecting was granted in 2014.

And on Friday, the Director General of the DCEO, Borotho Matsoso wrote to Chief Maseribane informing him that the anti-corruption body had conducted its investigations and found no evidence of any wrongdoing on his part.

“The DCEO received a report alleging suspected commission of corruption and possible money laundering against you,” Advocate Matsoso wrote to Chief Maseribane in a letter that was titled “Investigation progress on Mr Aron Banks and Honourable Thesele Maseribane.”

“In line with its mandate the DCEO accordingly launched investigations pertaining to the said report (of corruption and possible money laundering).

“Our findings, up to now, are to the effect that there seems to be no malpractice or any undue influence exercised by you in your capacity as minister in the affairs of Mr Aron Bank’s acquisition of mining rights.

“We are not up to this point, unless additional evidence comes into fore, in a position to press any charges against you in relation to this matter.”

Chief ’Maseribane, who was not reachable for comment, will feel vindicated after he and Mr Banks repeatedly any wrongdoing and insisted that the money from the latter was for humanitarian purposes and the financing of BNP activities.

The duo claimed that part of the funds were used to pay for the BNP policy conference in 2014 as well as the party’s 2015 elections campaigns which included regalia, transport and the star rally which was held at Setsoto Stadium in February 2015.

Chief Maseribane recently boasted about his relationship with Mr Banks and called him a “ladies’ man”.

Chief Maseribane told his party supporters at a rally in Kolo in the Mafeteng district that he was not ashamed about his relationship with Mr Banks because he was an investor.

“I’m not ashamed of anything because he (Mr Banks) is an investor and for your information, he is coming to Lesotho very soon.

“He is bringing in more money. The ladies’ man is coming and you should ready yourself to chow his money more,” Chief Maseribane said a fortnight ago.

Besides Chief Maseribane, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has also been in the spotlight over his relationship with the controversial Mr Banks.

In a recent interview with the BBC, Dr Thabane denied claims that Mr Banks had splashed the cash to secure a diamond prospecting licence. Instead, Dr Thabane described Mr Banks as “a good friend” who helped him with money to “buy food and soap” while he was in exile in South Africa.

Asked by the BBC if he was personally assisted by Mr Banks, Dr Thabane said: “Well, I think we were good friends”.

Asked what sort of assistance he received, Dr Thabane said: “Well, I think we needed to buy food”, he said with a chuckle and added: “Seriously and to buy some soap to wash.”

Dr Thabane first fled to South Africa after the 30 August 2014 attempted coup against his first government by the Lesotho Defence Force which was then under the command of Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli.

The coup followed the Lt-Gen Kamoli’s refusal to make way for the late Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao who had been appointed by Dr Thabane to take over from Lt-Gen Kamoli as the army commander.

Dr Thabane fled the country again in 2015 and only returned in February 2017 to prepare for the 3 June 2017 national elections.

Meanwhile, BNP Spokesperson Machesetsa Mofomobe yesterday welcomed the DCEO ruling, saying his party had done its part by freely and fully cooperating with the DCEO in the execution of its mandate to investigate alleged corruption.

Mr Mofomobe called on the opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) to similarly cooperate with the DCEO in its investigations of corruption by the LCD leader, Mothetjoa Metsing.

Mr Metsing has been holed up in neighbouring South Africa after fleeing Lesotho last August citing an alleged plot to assassinate him. The government has nevertheless refuted his claims, insisting that Mr Metsing fled to escape prosecution for corruption.

Commenting on the DCEO findings yesterday, Mr Mofomobe said that, “What is important is that we gave the DCEO the chance to execute its mandate freely by cooperating fully with it”.

“We therefore accept the decision of the DCEO and wish that all other political leaders like the LCD leader would do the same,” he said.

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