State witness in suspicious conduct
- seen boarding Kamoli’s vehicle,
- but denies being “bought” to do ex-army boss’ bidding.
RETIRED Colonel Thato Phaila, a state witness in former army commander, Tlali Kamoli and nine others’ trial for murdering army commander, Maaparankoe Mahao, has set tongues wagging after being seen boarding Lieutenant General (Lt-Gen) Kamoli’s vehicle last week.
Retired Colonel Phaila, who has attempted to exonerate Lt-Gen Kamoli from any wrongdoing in the Mahao murder, has denied being close to the former army chief. He said he only boarded the Kamoli family vehicle to evade soldiers who had allegedly mutinied against the former army boss’ command in 2015.
He pleaded with High Court Judge Charles Hungwe to order that he be provided with security as the “mutineers” were allegedly spying on him.
The vehicle was being driven by Lt-Gen Kamoli’s wife when Retired Colonel Phaila was given a lift less than 200 metres from the High Court last week.
Lt-Gen Kamoli’s co-accused are Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Capt Haleo Makara, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Sergeant Motsamai Fako, Corporal Marasi ‘Moleli, Corporal Motšoane Machai, Corporal Mohlalefi Seitlheko and Corporal Tšitso Ramoholi.
Former Director of Military Intelligence, Lieutenant Colonel Tumo Lekhooa, is also accused in absentia as he fled the country in 2017.
On Wednesday, the lead prosecutor, Shaun Abrahams, asked Retired Colonel Phaila if he was close to the Kamoli family. Advocate Abrahams also asked whether Retired Colonel Phaila had boarded Lt-Gen Kamoli’s car, if Ms Kamoli had bought him lunch and whether he had slept at the Kamoli residence.
Retired Colonel Phaila said he was forced to board the Kamoli vehicle because he was being followed by soldiers who were suspected of mutiny against Lt-Gen Kamoli’s command in 2015. Retired Colonel Phaila was part of the team which arrested the “mutiny” suspects in 2015.
“We only greet each other with Mrs Kamoli as someone I know,” Retired Colonel Phaila told the court.
“However, I was forced to stop her car because there were mutineers who were following me from here.
“I asked her to drop me near the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) but I realised that the mutineers’ vehicle which was tailing me had not been aware that I had disembarked from the Kamoli’s vehicle as they kept following it. I then boarded a taxi to where I stay.
“These boys (mutineers) have been following me from the first day I came to this court (to testify). One Second Lieutenant Monne, who is a mutineer, has been parking a vehicle near my residence. I ended up not using my vehicle to come here. Some of the mutineers I have seen here at court are Captain Mokhothu, your (Adv Abrahams) driver and others I cannot recall their names. Mrs Kamoli did not buy me lunch and I never slept at her residence,” Retired Colonel Phaila added.
He then pleaded with Justice Hungwe to order Adv Abrahams to prove the allegations that he had received lunch from Mrs Kamoli and slept at her place.
“I am not happy that the Crown says I was afforded lunch and accommodation by Mrs Kamoli. I want them to prove that. It is tarnishing my image. This is Lesotho and it is definitely going to appear on social media tonight that I was fed by Mrs Kamoli. I work with him (Adv Abrahams) and he should have asked me.
“I am not intimidated by those allegations because Lesotho is ruled by propaganda and lies. I have received screenshots from my children about people insulting me on social media, saying that I had been given money by (Lesotho Congress for Democracy leader Mothetjoa) Metsing and that I vowed to stand by him. That does not scare me,” Retired Colonel Phaila said.
Adv Abrahams said he could not have had asked Retired Colonel Phaila about anything in private. He said he could only ask him in court as he was a state witness who was under oath.
Justice Hungwe said he had only recorded the information about Retired Colonel Phaila’s interactions with the Kamoli family as questions from the Crown.
“Seeing you getting into the (Kamoli) vehicle could raise serious suspicions so what the Crown did was to afford you an opportunity to clear your name. Focus on the questions that the counsel put to you. Try to answer them as honestly as possible,” Justice Hungwe said.
One of the defence lawyers, Adv Silas Ratau, who represents Captains Nyakane and Makara, then asked Retired Colonel Phaila if he felt safe ever since he became a state witness.
“I am not a fearful person even though there seems to be a plot from these boys. I am not afraid of them. However, my life is at risk. If I could be ferried from here to where I stay or rather be afforded a security personnel that would be helpful,” Retired Colonel Phaila said.
He also denied knowledge of the army operational order which was presented by Adv Abrahams as the one which was used to arrest the “mutiny” suspects and resulted in the killing of Lt-Gen Mahao. He said although the signature on the document presented to the court by Adv Abrahams like his, it was fake.
“This document looks like a funeral programme and it will be unfair for me to comment on it. This is not the operational document which was used. I have seen it before and it is not like this. An operational order is not written like this.
“I was not the commander of that operation (to arrest the “mutiny” suspects). The English used (in the document) is academic and not military language. The authenticating signature looks like mine but it is not mine.”
Retired Colonel Phaila also disowned his own witness statement, saying he had been forced to make some false statements by the investigating police officers.
“This affidavit contains inaccuracies. I had asked the investigation officer to remove them but I realise they are still there. I was pressured to say certain things in this affidavit which are not correct,” Retired Colonel Phaila said.