MURDER and attempted murder-accused former army commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, who has been languishing in remand prison for more than a year, will have to wait longer until 18 December to know when he will stand trial.
The prolonged delay has been caused by the non-arrival of foreign judges who are expected to preside over this and several other cases involving past and serving members of the security agencies which are deemed to be politically sensitive cases.
High Court judge Justice Keketso Moahloli announced the latest postponement after the Acting Director of Public Prosecutions, Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane, advised the court to postpone the case to 18 December.
Lt-Gen Kamoli faces 14 counts of attempted murder in connection with the 27 January 2014 simultaneous bombings of the Moshoeshoe II homes of First Lady Maesaiah Thabane and the Ha Abia residence of former police commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana.
In this case Lt-Gen Kamoli is charged alongside Major Pitso Ramoepane, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Sergeant Heqoa Malefane and Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko.
He also faces a murder charge in connection with the killing of Police Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko at the Police Headquarters in Maseru during the attempted coup of 30 August 2014.
Lt-Gen Kamoli is charged alongside Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Lance Corporal Motloheloa Ntsane and Lance Corporal Leutsoa Motsieloa.
During their court appearance on Friday, Adv Motinyane told the court that she had been informed by the Acting High Court Registrar, Pontšo Phafoli, that foreign judges were yet to arrive in the country and therefore the case should be postponed.
“We had a discussion with the registrar together with the defence lawyers and she told us that the judge who will preside over the case has not yet arrived therefore gave us the date of 18 December this year for the case to be set down,” Adv Motinyane said.
High Court judge, Keketso Moahloli then postponed the case to 18 December 2018.
“The case has been postponed to 18 December this year on which it will be allocated the trial dates,” Justice Moahloli said.
Ms Phafoli recently told our sister Lesotho Times publication that the government has finalised the recruitment of foreign judges to preside over the much-anticipated criminal trials of past and serving members of the security agencies.
However, Ms Phafoli did not say when the judges would arrive and when the trials would finally begin. She said their arrival dates would only be known after the government has discussed the issue with the respective judges. She also said that the number of judges being brought in for the cases could still be increased if the circumstances warranted such an increase.
The delay in the arrival of the foreign judges has also caused the postponement of the murder trial of Lesotho Congress for Democracy’s (LCD) Deputy Leader, Tšeliso Mokhosi and the former Police Commissioner, Molahlehi Letsoepa which had been scheduled for 4 September this year.
Messrs Mokhosi, Letsoepa and four senior police officers stand accused of murdering Police Constable (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng two years ago.
Lt-Gen Kamoli is not happy with the postponement of his trials and the recruitment of foreign judges.
Lt-Gen Kamoli twice appeared before the High Court last month and on both occasions the former army chief told the court that he did not want foreign judges to preside over his case, saying local judges were more than competent to handle the trial.
Lt-Gen Kamoli asked Justice Semapo Peete why their cases could not be heard by local judges just like any other case of murder or attempted murder.
“We are accused of murder and attempted murder and ‘other cases of this nature’ as the prosecution puts it. Are these cases any different from other cases of murder and attempted murder that they would need to be presided over by foreign judges other than local judges,” Mr Kamoli asked.
Justice Peete replied by saying that the decision to invite foreign judges was done to ensure that Lt-Gen Kamoli and his co-accused would be given fair trial.
“The decision to seek foreign judges was taken to ensure impartial adjudication. In Lesotho we have very close relations. Everybody knows everybody else. I know you and you know me. Not unless you can say you do not know me,” Justice Peete said.
Justice Peete further said that he had been informed by the acting Chief Justice ‘Maseforo Mahase that preparations for the appointment of the foreign judges to preside over the Kamoli and other cases were at an advanced stage.
“I consulted the acting Chief Justice and she put it on record that she was informing me as a Duty Judge that the process of appointing the foreign judges is at an advanced stage,” Justice Peete said.
Justice Peete however said that no specific or individual judges have been named to preside the case, adding that at a later stage the nominated judges will have to go through the process of confirmation by the Judicial Service Commission.
“As we know, section 12 of the constitution solemnly states that every person is entitled to fair trial before an impartial tribunal and within a reasonable time. It is quite clear that peculiar circumstances of this case require adjudication by judges other than those of the High Court. It is a unique case that cannot be done in a day,” Justice Peete said.
One of the suspects, Mr Nyakane asked Justice Peete what was meant by the statement that every person was entitled to fair trial with a reasonable time given that their case has been postponed on numerous occasions.
In reply, Justice Peete said that theirs was a high-profile case and it would be impossible to put in quantifiable terms what reasonable time meant with regards to the case.
“The 21 counts (of murder and attempted murder) are quite serious and many. This is a high-profile case and reasonable time here is a nebulous (vague) concept.
“However, the only stumbling block now is the appointment of the foreign judges. When that is done, the trial will continue without any postponement unless the judge or the defendant gets ill,” Justice Peete said.