MASERU — A senior government minister suspected of receiving bribes from an Israeli company supplying Identity Documents to Lesotho has refused to be interviewed by the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO), the Sunday Express can reveal.
The DCEO is investigating allegations that some officials in the current and previous government were paid millions in bribes to award the M298 million ID tender to Nikuv International Projects in March last year.
The minister, whose name is known to this paper, is one of those suspected to have benefited from the M30 million that Nikuv allegedly gave to state officials.
The minister cannot be named in this report because he could not be reached for comment.
This newspaper can reveal that in June the DCEO asked the minister to come for questioning over his alleged involvement in the scandal.
The minister is said to have agreed to cooperate on condition that the DCEO gets approval from Prime Minister Tom Thabane.
The anticorruption unit then applied for the approval from Thabane who granted it three weeks ago, according to three sources close to the investigation.
Investigations by this paper have revealed that two weeks ago the minister was informed of the approval by Thabane and he promised that he would be available for the interview within a week.
But when the DCEO called him again a week later the minister said he would not be cooperating with the investigators.
“He has steadfastly refused to talk to the DCEO,” said a source.
The minister is alleged to have received the bribes when he was still in the previous government.
The details of the corrupt payments to him have been gleaned from computers the DCEO confiscated from Nikuv in a raid in March.
This paper understands that the payments were made through a number of agents so that they could not be traced back to the company.
Some of the money is alleged to have been laundered through various fake companies and business transactions before it reached the recipients.
The minister’s refusal to cooperate might force the DCEO to proceed by way of an arrest but sources say there is fear in the government that the move might endanger the coalition.
There are unconfirmed reports that the parties in the coalition hold different views on how the investigation and possible prosecutions should be handled.
In April the DCEO raided the home of Retšelisitsoe Khetsi, the former principal secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs, who is said to have played a role in the controversial awarding of the tender to Nikuv International Projects.
This followed the DCEO’s discovery that Khetsi signed the contract with Nikuv two months before cabinet approved the deal.
The anticorruption unit also raided the home and office of the principal secretary of the Ministry of Finance, Mosito Khethisa.
To avoid prosecution Nikuv officials have agreed to turn into state witnesses.
This paper understands that although the officials have named some government officials involved in the corrupt deal they have requested that the DCEO had put the arrests on hold until they have finished the project.
This, sources say, is because of fear of reprisal if the suspects are arrested before Nikuv officials leave the country.
This condition is also included in the plea-bargain deal the company signed with the DCEO, according to a source.
Officials in the Ministry of Home Affairs told the Sunday Express that they expect Nikuv officials to leave the country sometime next month.
They said this is when the company would have completed the roll-out and training of local staff.