MASERU — Businessman Tumo Tlelai is now a free man after serving only five of his 30-day prison sentence for contempt of court.
Tlelai was set free on Friday but his release has sparked controversy because lawyer Mosiuoa Koto, who contributed to his release, had allegedly not been instructed to deal with the matter.
Tlelai was jailed for ignoring a court order to stop operations at a quarry mine in Mohlakeng, an area at the centre of a bitter ownership wrangle between the communities of Ha-Mofoka and Qeme.
The chief of Ha-Mofoka, Lehlola Mofoka, and his lawyer Koili Ndebele are the ones who laid contempt of court charges against Tlelai.
After Tlelai had been slapped with a 30-day jail sentence his lawyer Makhetha Motšoari made an urgent application before Justice Maseforo Mahase seeking his release.
But Justice Mahase refused to hear the case and instructed Mots’oari to first get affidavits from Chief Mofoka and his lawyer, Ndebele, before taking the case to court again.
It has however emerged that instead of Ndebele dealing with the matter Koto appeared on behalf of Chief Mofoka when Motšoari filed a second application for the businessman’s release.
That second application secured Mofoka’s release.
But Ndebele now says he never instructed Koto to stand in for him and represent Chief Mofoka.
He also says he had not filed the affidavits that Justice Mahase had requested when she rejected the initial application for Tlelai’s release.
“It came as a shock to me when I received information that Tlelai had been released from prison,” Ndebele told the Sunday Express.
“I hadn’t asked Koto to stand in for me,” he said, adding: “My clients are angry with me now and accuse me of backstabbing.”
Although Ndebele admits that when the first application was made he had requested Motšoari to look for any lawyer available because he had other commitments he says that instruction was no longer valid because by the time the second application was made he was available.
He says Mots’oari should have checked with him before going to court with Koto.
“At that time I did not ask anybody to stand in for me,” Ndebele said.
Chief Mofoka has also told this paper that he had at no time instructed Ndebele to appoint Koto to appear for him in court.
“I do not even know that a lawyer appeared for me in court in this case,” Chief Mofoka said.
“In my understanding, Tlelai had committed contempt of court not contempt of Lehlola Mofoka and I did not have a say in what the court had to do with him.”
Koto told the Sunday Express when he stood in for Ndebele last Friday he was not aware that the latter was available after he had travelled out of the country.
“Initially I was instructed to stand in for Mr Ndebele on Thursday and when I was called again by the applicant’s counsel on Friday I was not aware that I was no longer mandated,” Koto said.
“The impression I got when I received instructions by telephone on Thursday was that he would not be available for the entire weekend.
“So the court got that impression as well.”