Thabanes’ trial for murder postponed again
…DPP Motinyane hires SA’s Gareth Leppan to prosecute the case
THE much-delayed trial of the murder-accused duo of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his wife ‘Maesaiah, has again been postponed.
The duo who are accused of the 14 June 2017 murder of Mr Thabane’s ex-wife, Lipolelo Thabane, will now stand trial on 26 July 2022. A pre-trial conference will precede the main trial on that same day to “iron out the nitty-gritties in order to ensure that the trial proceeds without any hiccups,” the presiding judge, Molefi Makara has said.
Justice Makara set the new dates when the Crown and defence appeared before him on Thursday at the High Court in Maseru.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane, has roped in seasoned South African, Advocate Gareth Leppan, to prosecute the case on behalf of the state. Attorney Qhalehang Letsika is representing Mr Thabane while Adv Salemane Phafane (KC) is representing ‘Maesaiah.
During their Thursday appearance before Justice Makara, Mr Letsika proposed the 26 July 2022 date for the commencement of both the pre-trial conference and the main trial itself. He said the defence and prosecution had agreed on that date.
“My Lord, I propose that we have a meeting with the Crown on 9 June and thereafter we will have a pre-trial session on 26 July,” Mr Letsika said.
“On that same day the trial will then commence. It will run for four consecutive days until 29 July. Then we will continue again from 1 to 3 August 2022.
“My client (Thabane) here is a very old man and we would like this case to take off and be concluded as fast as possible. It’s a very straightforward case in which we will have few statements for submission and four to five witnesses.”
He said the Thabanes were both politicians and were desirous to have the case concluded before the country goes for elections in October 2022.
Adv Leppan concurred, saying, “I confirm what my learned friend has put before the court My Lord”.
Justice Makara then set the July and August 2022 trial dates, saying he too was anxious to quickly dispose of the matter.
“The pre-trial conference is meant to demystify things between all parties involved and I am not expecting this case to drag for too long like in the past where murder trials dragged for years. We are saying no (to lengthy trials), that has to change. We don’t even have enough resources for cases which take long. We should therefore try and manage our limited resources efficiently.
“The trial will begin on the 26 July 2022 and will continue on the other set dates,” Judge Makara ordered.
Mr Thabane stepped down from the helm of the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) on 31 December 2021. He was succeeded by former cabinet minister Nkaku Kabi who beat Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro at the party’s 28-29 January elective conference in Maseru. Mr Thabane remains the party’s legislator in the Ha Abia, Maseru constituency. It is unclear whether the 82-year-old will seek re-election.
Although his wife has not held an official political office, she has a reputation for being meddlesome and unofficially running both party and government when her husband was prime minister from June 2017 to May 2020.
Her abrasive and meddlesome nature has been cited by ABC hawks cited as the reason for Mr Thabane’s fallout with his colleagues and his enforced departure for the premiership in 2020. It has been said that she intends to stand for election in her home district of Mokhotlong where she would have to battle it out with former close ally and now Basotho Patriotic Party (BPP) leader, Tefo Mapesela.
Mr Letsika’s remarks that both she and Mr Thabane are hoping for a swift conclusion of their trial suggests that they believe they will be acquitted of the serious charges against them.
The Thabanes are accused alongside the now deceased Famo artiste and gang leader, Rethabile ‘Mosotho Chakela’ Mokete, Molefi Matima (also deceased), Seabata Lieta and Macheli Koeshe. Lieta and Koeshe are at large, meaning that only Mr Thabane and ‘Maesaiah will be tried by Justice Makara.
‘Maesaiah is out on bail while Mr Thabane has never been arrested. Nor has he been formally charged. He appeared at the High Court for a pre-trial interview on 30 November 2021 where he was told that he would be joined to the case and asked to plead when the murder trial began on 8 March 2022. But the trial did not take off as expected on that date because the defence had not been furnished with witness statements.
Justice Makara then postponed the trial to 28 April 2022 to allow the Crown to furnish the defence with the witness statements.
The Thabanes are accused of masterminding Lipolelo’s murder, allegedly by the late Chakela and his fellow Famo gangsters.
The police accuse Mr Thabane and his wife of murdering Lipolelo to facilitate ‘Maesaiah’s ascension to the post of First Lady in 2017. Lipolelo had been estranged from Mr Thabane. But she had won the right to be recognised as the real First Lady and enjoy the benefits of that office because her long running divorce case with Mr Thabane had not been finalised when Mr Thabane returned for his second stint as premier in June 2017.
Lipolelo was murdered two days before Mr Thabane’s inauguration. She and Mr Thabane married barely two months after Lipolelo’s death. They threw a lavish wedding ceremony at Setsoto Stadium on 27 August 2017.
According to court papers filed by Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Paseka Mokete in 2020, Mr Thabane and ‘Maesaiah allegedly promised to pay Lipolelo’s killers a staggering M3 million to get the job done.
The Thabanes had only paid the Famo gangsters M400 000 when the murder allegations against them blew up earlier in 2020, DCP Mokete alleged.