THE Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) says it is “only waiting for the right moment” to nab opposition leader Mothetjoa Metsing and have him stand trial for corruption.
This was said by the DCEO Director General, Borotho Matsoso, in a recent interview with the Sunday Express.
Mr Matsoso’s remarks were made against the background of recent claims by Mr Metsing that the DCEO and the Crown could not prosecute him on any criminal charges because a SADC-brokered deal which placed a moratorium on his prosecution superseded any local court decisions.
Mr Metsing, who leads the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), returned to the country three weeks ago after more than a year in exile in South Africa.
He had been granted relief from possible criminal charges when the government and the opposition signed an agreement on 26 October this year facilitating his and other exiled opposition leaders’ return.
Clause 10 of that Memorandum of Agreement states that “Mr Metsing and similarly placed persons in exile will not be subjected to any pending criminal proceedings during the dialogue and reforms process”.
Others who returned home from exile are Mr Metsing’s deputy in the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Tšeliso Mokhosi and the leader of Socialist Revolutionaries, Teboho Mojapela.
Although they returned home three weeks ago, the moratorium on their prosecution until after the reforms process was nullified by the Constitutional Court which ruled that “clause 10 (of the government-opposition agreement) is unconstitutional in as far as it undermines and is inconsistent with section 99(3) of the constitution” which empowers the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to decide whether or not to prosecute criminal cases.
Acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase presided over the case together with and judges Semapo Peete and Molefi Makara. The case had been brought to court by the family of the slain army commander, Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao, and others who whose relatives were killed allegedly at the hands of security forces during the time that Mr Metsing and other opposition parties were at the helm of government.
Mr Metsing was deputy prime minister during the seven parties’ coalition that was headed by Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Pakalitha Mosisili.
During that time in 2015, Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao was assassinated by fellow soldiers who claimed he had resisted arrest for allegedly being the ringleader of a mutiny against the command of the then army chief Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli.
On 22 November this year, the Constitutional Court ruled that “Clause 10 is unconstitutional in as far as it undermines and is inconsistent with section 99(3) of the constitution. In principle, the court cannot compromise the exercise of powers by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). The same applies to the arresting powers assigned to the police by law and those entrusted upon the DCEO. It can only intervene through a review against abuses of such powers or where there are unconstitutional acts.
“Even the courts do not in principle have the power to interfere with the arresting powers of the police and the DCEO,” the Constitutional Court ruled.
However, in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Express’ sister Lesotho Times publication in the aftermath of the court ruling, Mr Metsing insisted he had nothing to fear. He said could not be prosecuted because the deal which facilitated his return was brokered by SADC whose decisions took precedence over those of local courts.
“To me clause 10 remains intact because it is a political agreement among SADC, the opposition and the government. It is politically binding despite the court ruling and I expect that the courts will respect that as well.
“No one had to convince me to return because I felt that the agreement on its own was enough to protect me for the duration of the reforms process.
“The (22 November Constitutional Court) judgement doesn’t nullify clause 10 in the agreement and as a member state of SADC we are obliged to abide by that agreement. And the government also knows the importance of adhering to (decisions of) multilateral institutions. We don’t live in an island where we strictly adhere to our (national) laws, we need other states as well,” Mr Metsing said.
However, his assertions have been dismissed by Mr Matsoso who insists that the former prime minister is not above the laws of the land and will soon be arraigned before the courts to answer for corruption.
“We are fully aware that Mr Metsing is back in the country and like everyone else he has to adhere to the laws that govern Lesotho. He has a case to answer and like everyone else he shall take the stand in court and clear his name. We are just waiting for the right moment to effect the arrest. We are examining the best way of approaching this matter because he is just not an ordinary citizen. It needs to be handled with all due respect and he deserves that,” Mr Matsoso said.
He added: “In any event, we are now in the festive season and even the courts are preparing to go on a break and it wouldn’t be wise to arrest him now. Mr Metsing’s case is not an emergency because he is not a flight risk”.
Mr Metsing stands accused of corruption in connection with suspicious deposits that were made into his bank accounts between 2013 and 2014.
He allegedly received M328 000 and M118 000 between April 2013 and June 2013. A deposit of M524 964 into one of his accounts was also not explained.
This was after the controversial allocation of a M120 million tender to Big Bravo Construction Company for the construction of roads in the Ha-Matala and Ha-Leqele villages of Maseru.
Big Bravo was engaged for the upgrading of Matala Phase One and Matala to Ha Leqele Bus Stop roads in 2014.
The company is alleged to have won the tender at Mr Metsing’s instigation. It nonetheless was accused of doing shoddy work and leaving road works uncompleted about two months before the contract ended in 2015.
The company was awarded the M120 million tender in what competitors alleged to have been a fraudulent process.
The alleged dubious deposits into Mr Metsing’s bank accounts happened at a time when Mr Metsing was local government minister and deputy prime minister in the tripartite coalition government led by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane in 2014.