Caswell Tlali & Staff Reporter
MASERU — Masupha Sole spent nine years in jail for 13 corruption-related crimes but he believes his conviction was “political and malicious”.
He also says jealousy could have played a part.
In 2002 Masupha’s rising star dimmed when the High Court sentenced him to an effective 18 years in jail for receiving bribes from contractors when he was still the chief executive of the Lesotho Highland Development Authority (LHDA) during the construction of Katse and Mohale dams. On appeal the sentence was reduced to 15 years.
The judgment said the Canadian trained engineer had received M5 million in bribes from international companies through various intermediaries between 1988 and 1998.
The prosecution painted a picture of a greedy boss who had enriched himself using the institution whose interests he was supposed to protect.
The money, the judgment said, had been received in offshore accounts in France, South Africa and Switzerland.
But Sole remains adamant that he did not take a single cent in bribes.
His conviction was political, he says.
Even now he sees the same “political forces” working to have him removed from his position as the special adviser of the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission (LHWC).
Since his appointment in August last year after his release in May, South Africa has been pushing for his removal.
The Lesotho government says it is yet to decide how to handle the issue.
Since his release and appointment Sole has remained largely quiet about his imprisonment and South Africa’s incessant demand for his removal.
This week however the man who was seen as a poster child of corruption in Lesotho spoke out for the first time.
He told the Sunday Express that the only reason he went to jail in 2002 was because he is a law abiding citizen who “humbled himself before the laws of the country”.
“I went to jail not because I believed I was guilty but because I am a law abiding citizen,” he says.
Although he insists it is still too early for him to say who was behind his conviction, Sole believes that “there was a huge political force and jealousy behind it”.
“My lawyers and I have always maintained that I am a victim. We have always maintained that I am innocent,” he explained.
One of his lawyers was Haae Phoofolo, who is now the justice minister in the coalition government.
“Even if you ask Mr Phoofolo he will tell you that mine was the most political and malicious case he had ever seen,” said the 64-year-old who is said to be an active member of the Basotho National Party, a junior partner in the coalition government.
Sole claimed that after spending nine years behind bars he has made peace with himself and the fact that he was a victim of a political plot.
“I have paid my dues if at all there were any dues to be paid,” he said in response to a question on whether he is still bitter.
“God allows certain things to happen for a reason. He is not part of the bad things but he allows them to happen for reasons only he knows and I am happy not to know.”
He said it seems that “everybody who wants to talk about my issue starts from the middle and the end.”
“That is unfair. We should start from the beginning. If they look at it from the start they would begin to question if Sole was indeed guilty and if he was fairly convicted.”
To prove his assertion that he was unfairly convicted Sole points out that the two crown witnesses in his cases have been convicted of the fraud and bribery, the same crimes for which he landed in jail.
Reatile Mochebelele, the government’s chief representative water and Letlafuoa Molapo, another government delegate in the project, were the star witnesses in the case against Sole.
It later turned out that while the two star witnesses of the crown were “nailing” Sole they were also taking bribes from consulting firms working on the project.
Molapo is currently serving a six-year term while Mochebelele is in South Africa fighting Lesotho’s efforts to have him extradited so that he serves his 10 year sentence.
Their conviction, Sole claims, undermines the credibility of their testimonies in his case.
“So the question is, if the court knew at the time that their integrity is questionable, would it have reached the same conclusion about me?
“When I was in jail the prosecution asked me to testify against them but I refused to be used. I said my conscience would not allow me to lie.”
On the current push by the South African government to have him removed, Sole said he is unfazed because he knows the agenda behind it.
“The reason I was appointed was because the project was not going well and the South African government had taken it over. I am merely here to assist in a way that I can.”
“That the project is not going well and South Africa is now running the show, is a matter of public knowledge.”
The push for his removal is also coming from the lawyers who prosecuted his case, he added.
“Those lawyers are afraid of what might come out if I continue being on the commission.”