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Police halt probe after complainant walks out

Caswell Tlali

MASERU — Police say they have temporarily halted investigations into a case in which a police officer was accused of aiding a suspect steal earth moving machines from a local businessman.
Police spokesperson Masupha Masupha told the Sunday Express that the Thamae Police Station officers stopped investigations into the case after the complainant, Mothopula Seala, stormed out of a meeting with the police.
Seala, a director of Metsi a Pula Rentals and Fleet Management, had lodged a complaint against one Sergeant Lebajoa whom he accused of aiding a South African businessman, Tobbie Bird, to steal a TLB machine from him.
Bird is a director of Lombardini, a company in the business of earth-moving machine rentals which is based in Ladybrand.
Matters came to a head on Thursday after the Thamae police asked Seala to substantiate his claims against Lebajoa.
Seala allegedly got so angry during the meeting that he stormed out of the police station without explaining why he was leaving.
“The police then decided to suspend investigations until the complainant is ready to talk,” Masupha said.
“We will welcome him back when he has calmed down.”
Seala has also accused the police of threatening to shoot him in their alleged effort to help Bird to steal the machine despite that he had obtained an interim court order barring the South African businessman from seizing it.
He opened two cases of malicious damage to property and assault against Bird, which Masupha said would be before the courts soon.
He also has a civil case against Bird in which he is claiming M3.7 million, for allegedly failing to honour their agreement, and a further M150 000 for costs of fetching the TLB machine from Kathu in Eastern Cape, South Africa.
The fight between Bird and Seala began in December last year after the latter fetched the TLB 61 Volvo from South Africa.
It is alleged that Bird later came to his premises and took the machine.
Seala was renting the machine from Bird for a project he was working on at Metolong Dam, according to court papers.
Seala told High Court judge Justice Semapo Peete in his affidavit that he paid Bird M80 000 in cash as a deposit for hiring the machine.
He told the Sunday Express last week: “I was shocked one day when my secretary told me that the men I had sent to collect the machine had come and they had already taken it.”
“I immediately called the police and I also rushed there,” he said.
Seala said when he arrived near his office at Qoatsaneng in Maseru, he found Bird, the TLB operator and some other men already outside the gates with the machine.
It had broken down and they were repairing it, he said.
He said there was a fight and Bird assaulted him.
He later instructed his lawyer to stop Bird from taking away the machine through the courts.
He found that his gate had been broken when Bird and his men entered his premises.
“I also phoned the police, among them Assistant Commissioner (John) Selete but I never got any help from the police,” he said.
Instead of the police helping him, Seala said he received several calls from the Mofoka police saying he should report at their station and he refused.
“Six heavily armed police officers from Ha-Mofoka who included the one called Lebajoa who had been calling me came to my workplace in the company of Tobbie Bird and they said they had come to arrest me because I refused to go to their station when they called me,” he said.
Seala said that was when he received death threats from one of the police officers.
Bird, he said, had come with the TLB operator to take the machine away.
Luckily for him, the court messenger had also come and he served Bird with an order that barred him from taking the machine away.
“The police officers said the order did not mean anything to them and it could not prevent them from doing their work,” he said.
“They said I had stolen the machine from this white man and I was a criminal.”
They however did not arrest him.
Seala said it defied logic why, if he had stolen the machine, Bird did not report him to the Maseru police where the machine was parked but instead went to Ha-Mofoka, some 40 kilometres away.
He suspected that Bird had a dirty deal with the Mofoka police.
Sergeant Lebajoa and his immediate boss, Senior Inspector Molibeli, declined to respond to the Sunday Express’s questions without Masupha’s approval.
Bird accused Seala of stealing the machine and taking it across the border into Lesotho without his knowledge and approval.
He did not know where it was until he went to a vehicle tracking company which located it in Maseru.
Asked why he skipped Maseru Police Station to report the case to the Mofoka police, Bird said he had been given a phone number of a Lesotho policeman by a Ladybrand police officer and he called not knowing where the policeman was stationed.
Bird, who lives and works in Ladybrand, said he did not know Maseru at all and he was not aware that the police officer who was helping him was working far away in the rural areas.
“To show that I do not know Maseru, it took me two full days driving in the city until I found where my machine was,” Bird said.
He said his contract with Seala was that the machine would be used in Ficksburg and not in Lesotho.
Asked why he broke Seala’s gate to take the machine instead of calling him or the police, he said “it was a mistake.”
He said the contract Seala had which shows that he had agreed that the machine be taken to Lesotho was not authentic.

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