MASERU — Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili is demanding a whopping M2 million in a defamation lawsuit against a church-owned newspaper that he says alleged he had embezzled state funds.
The defamation suit, if successful, could sink Moeletsi oa Basotho, the Roman Catholic weekly that has been publishing since the late 1800s.
In papers filed in the High Court on December 9, Mosisili claims the newspaper made damaging allegations against him “during or about the month of October 2010”.
The paper’s editor, Mazenod Printing Works as well as the Oblate Congregation are cited as defendants in the case.
Mosisili claims the defendants “wrongfully, unlawfully and with intent to defame the plaintiff published or caused to be published several defamatory allegations about the plaintiff”.
The case centres around two instalments of the paper’s Mahlomola le Sopede column.
The column, written in Sesotho, alleged that Mosisili had embezzled M8 million that his office had received in the 2005/06 fiscal year.
“Today let us talk about the PM only and leave others. How much is his office said to have embezzled? This committee has discovered that for the financial year 2005/2006 this office of the honourable exceeded its budget by M8 million,” the column said.
“Aren’t these the same funds the end of which Thahane has said should not be investigated?”
“According to this report even the office of that Thahane of yours is just as full of corruption. Since you have said we must concentrate on the senior one let us leave this one then. You should know that this office of the one from Tsoelike (Mosisili’s constituency) has in these two years requested supplementary funds to its budget and it was given this money from our public coffers so that the honourable ones in that office may have funds to embezzle.”
The column continues: “Does that mean even the PM’s office has embezzled more than all others? . . . Gentlemen where shall we run to when the PM’s office is also corrupt?
“By (the) way my friend, isn’t it that we were recently talking about the office of the Honourable PM saying that it is the worst in embezzlement of public funds? This is just the beginning of bigger things. We were talking about it so that the nation could know just what sort of a ruler he is.”
Mosisili is, however, strongly protesting that these allegations and statements “are untrue, defamatory per se or at least in the context in which they are published”.
He argues that those allegations were read by the general public to mean that he is “corrupt, untruthful, dishonest and debased both as a person and as the prime minister of Lesotho and the first minister in His Majesty’s cabinet”.
The statements, Mosisili says in the court papers, were read to mean that he is “a thief who has participated and had taken a lead in an alleged embezzlement of public funds and that he is not worthy of the public office he holds and has perverse and degenerated understanding of moral values”.
“The publications have gravely impaired and damaged plaintiff’s dignitas (dignity) and fame in the eyes of the right-thinking members of the society who read it.”
He says despite demands, the defendants have “refused, neglected and/or ignored to pay the damage . . .”
Mosisili wants the paper to pay the damages plus an 18.5 percent annual interest.
The prime minister has previously sued the defunct Mirror newspaper for M250 000 in another defamation case.
He won the case in 2008 but was awarded only M50 000 in damages.
Mosisili has also sued Public Eye, another local weekly, for alleging that he was having an extramarital affair with Local Government Minister Pontso Sekatle in 2005.
The case came after a civil servant and a trade unionist were convicted of criminal defamation after they distributed pamphlets alleging that the prime minister and several ministers and their spouses were having extramarital affairs.
They were sentenced to two years in prison with the option of a M2 000 fine, half of which was suspended for three years.
Public Eye had placed pictures of Mosisili and Sekatle close together on the front page.
The case is still pending.