Police threaten to arrest murder-accused Thabane
- DCP Mokete vows to use “all legal means” to ensure PM and others appear in court
Mohalenyane Phakela/Nat Molomo
POLICE have threatened to arrest Prime Minister Thomas Thabane if that is what it will take to get him to finally appear in court to face charges of murdering his estranged wife, Lipolelo Thabane, on 14 June 2017.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Paseka Mokete, said this on Friday after Dr Thabane failed to show up for his eagerly-awaited hearing in the Maseru Magistrates’ Court amid swirling rumours that the embattled premier had fled the country for South Africa the previous evening.
“If we discover that he (Dr Thabane) was evading justice, we will apply for a warrant of arrest and execute it,” said DCP Mokete on Friday afternoon. The police chief had spent hours waiting in vain at the Magistrates’ Court for Dr Thabane to appear for his hearing at the courts only for the premier’s Senior Private Secretary, Thabo Thakalekoala, to later issue a statement saying the prime minister had gone to Bloemfontein to seek medical attention for an undisclosed ailment.
By then DCP Mokete, who had already addressed a press conference saying the police were flabbergasted by the premier’s no show, insisted that they would ensure that Dr Thabane eventually has his day in court.
DCP Mokete said apart from being able to prove that his mobile phone was used to communicate with Lipolelo’s likely killers at the murder scene, the police had other strong evidence to nail the premier and other suspects in the 14 June 2017 murder which occurred just two days before Dr Thabane was sworn in for his second stint as premier.
On a bright Friday morning when the previous evening’s showers gave way to bright sunlight, it appeared as though nature itself understood the momentous nature of the occasion where Dr Thabane was due to take his place in the annals of the history of Lesotho and indeed southern Africa as the first sitting leader to be charged with any crime.
People came from far and wide — some in solidarity and others just to catch a glimpse of the octogenarian who has presided over the fortunes of Lesotho in two stints as prime minister — first from 2012 to 2015 and again from 2017 until end of July this year when he says he will be stepping down due to old age.
By 8.30 am the Maseru Magistrates’ Court was full and those who came after that time were denied entry into the courtroom for Dr Thabane’s hearing which had been billed to start at 9am.
But the man and hour did not meet as expected and history had to be deferred to another day. This after it was confirmed at about 1pm that Dr Thabane would not be appearing in court after all.
After the early morning rumours that the premier had fled to South Africa to avoid prosecution, there was later to be official communication from Mr Thakalekoala denying that Dr Thabane had fled.
“The office of the Prime Minister hereby informs the public that Dr Motsoahae Thabane left the country in the wee hours of 21 February 2020 to attend an urgent medical check-up in South Africa,” Mr Thakalekoala said in the statement issued at about 1pm.
“This statement is issued against the rumours from the media which state that the Prime Minister has fled to South Africa, evading to appear in court in connection with the death of his second wife, Lipolelo Thabane.
“The Prime Minister will appear in court as soon as he returns from the doctors as in his statements, he has always maintained that he respects the rule of law and the courts. The office (of the Prime Minister) refutes allegations that the Prime Minister has sought asylum in South Africa,” said Mr Thakalekoala.
Clearly, Dr Thabane’s no show came as surprise even to the police especially DCP Mokete and his investigating team who had waited patiently at the courts like everybody else until midday for the premier to show up.
The police and army had even provided heavy security in anticipation of Dr Thabane’s appearance and when it finally dawned on DCP Mokete that the premier would not be appearing after all, he hastily arranged a press conference at the Police Headquarters where he said they would investigate and establish why Dr Thabane did not show up.
DCP Mokete even threatened to apply for a warrant for his arrest if they found that Dr Thabane had indeed fled the country to evade justice.
“The Prime Minister’s lawyer came to my office yesterday (Thursday) to assure us that Dr Thabane would appear in court today (Friday) to be formally charged.
“However, his lawyer (Qhalehang Letsika) seemed to be clueless today regarding his client (Dr Thabane)’s whereabouts. We heard rumours that he (Dr Thabane) had gone for a medical treatment in South Africa but we are yet to ascertain whether he was unable to come to court for medical reasons. If we discover that he (Dr Thabane) was evading justice, we will apply for a warrant of arrest and execute it.
“Apart from the Prime Minister’s phone being linked to the murder, we also have a strong evidence against Dr Thabane. We are also working on making more arrests and some of the suspects are in South Africa and we will engage the police that side via the legal route to ensure they are brought here to face charges.”
Later in the day at about 4pm on Friday, DCP Mokete told the Sunday Express that he had received Dr Thabane’s sick leave note from his lawyer indicating that the premier needed to be attended to at least until 27 February 2020 raising the possibility that he could appear in court after that date.
“We got a sick leave note for Dr Thabane which expires on 27 February 2020 but we expect him to appear in court when he is fit even if it is before 27 February,” DCP Mokete said.
Apart from the Lipolelo murder charge, Dr Thabane is also charged with the attempted murder of Thato Sibolla and the malicious damage to property (Ms Lipolelo’s vehicle).
Ms Sibolla was travelling in the same vehicle with Lipolelo when she was gunned down in cold blood at Ha-‘Masana, Maseru, on the night of 14 June 2017. She sustained serious injuries after being shot at in the shooting incident which claimed Lipolelo’s life. She has since fled to South Africa in fear for her life.
Dr Thabane joins his wife, First Lady ‘Maesaiah Thabane, in the dock, becoming the first ever sitting Lesotho Prime Minister to be charged with a crime. ‘Maesaiah is so far the only one to be charged with the Lipolelo murder. She was charged in the Maseru Magistrates’ Court on 5 February 2020. She is currently out on M1000 bail which was controversially granted by Acting Chief Justice, ‘Maseforo Mahase.
In her bail application on 5 February 2020, ‘Maesaiah appeared to shift the blame for the murder to Dr Thabane asking why she was the one in the dock when the central allegation was that it’s her husband’s telephone — not hers — that had been used at the crime scene. She denied the murder charges.
“Your petitioner is charged with murder and attempted murder…and verily avers that she was not at the scene of the crime when it happened. Your petitioner avers that she was arrested on allegations that her husband’s (mobile phone) number was involved in the crime.
“Your petitioner avers that she has nothing to do with the death of the deceased and hence has nothing to do in connection thereof. She was never part of any plot to kill the deceased and was not even at the crime scene when the crime was committed,” Ms Thabane stated in her bail application.
Apart from Dr Thabane and ‘Maesaiah, several other people, including the actual alleged gunmen, will also be charged. However, as indicated by DCP Mokete, most of these suspects are yet to be arrested as they are said to have fled to South Africa.
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