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Top cop yet to return to work, 11 months on…

Mohalenyane Phakela | Pascalinah Kabi

SENIOR police officer Lebohang Setsomi has still not returned to work, 11 months after his return from exile in South Africa.

Senior Superintendent Setsomi fled the country in July 2017 after he was accused of leaking on Facebook information about investigations into the murder of ex-prime minister Thomas Thabane’s wife, Lipolelo.  He was also accused of inflating tender costs in his day to day job as procurement officer of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS).

Lipolelo had been killed a month earlier, allegedly at the behest of her husband and new wife ‘Maesaiah, and investigations into the killing were being kept under wraps.  Snr Supt Setsomi was accused of having leaked the docket number and posted it on social media.  He fled after he had received death threats and after the alleged brutal torture of another police officer who had allegedly passed the docket information to him.

Snr Supt Setsomi nonetheless returned from exile in September 2019, after the Thabane government facilitated his return on the promise that he would get his job back and no charges would be preferred against him.

He returned together with Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) Assistant Superintendent Ramahetlane Percy Bereng. Mr Bereng had also fled into exile after he had been accused of being part of people who had illegally leaked a government gazette announcing the appointment of South African judge, Justice Yvonne Mokgoro, as acting president of the Court of Appeal.

The gazette was leaked before its official publication. In fact, it was not officially published after Judge Mokgoro withdrew from her appointment.  The leaked gazette was however to form part of the evidence used in the litigation that ensued over the leadership of the Court of Appeal.

While Mr Bereng has long been back at work, Snr Supt Motsomi is still in the cold and hasn’t been receiving his salary since January 2018.  This despite that the two men returned at the same time in September 2019 after Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing had intervened on their behalf and got assurances they would be reinstated to their positions on arrival.

Snr Supt Motsomi’s plight is now attributed to the bad blood between him and Commissioner of Police Holomo Molibeli.

Snr Supt Motsomi recently told the Lesotho Times that Compol Molibeli had told him that his matter was still being resolved.

“I last met with the Commissioner (Molibeli) in March this year and he told me that he was still addressing my issues but did not give me a specific date on which I would return to work,” Snr Supt Setsomi said.

“I followed up with him last month (July) via a telephone call and he told me that he was held up in several meetings but still promised me that my issues were being attended to. I cannot comment any further on the issues regarding my absence from work as that matter is being handled by the police command.”

When he fled in 2017, Snr Supt Setsomi, who worked as the procurement officer for the LMPS, was facing arrest over allegations of tender fraud, in addition to his alleged role in the Lipolelo murder investigation leak.

Just before fleeing, Snr Supt Setsomi’s colleague, Superintendent Lerato Motseki, had been assaulted and tortured by other police officers, allegedly to force her into confessing that she was the one who had given the Lipolelo case details to Snr Supt Setsomi to post on Facebook.

Compol Molibeli was acting as the head of the police at that time, having just been brought back from early retirement by Mr Thabane.

Compol Molibeli and Snr Supt Setsomi had once been close allies during their time as committee members of the Lesotho Police Staff Association (LEPOSA). Compol Molibeli had been a deputy police commissioner of Police and also LEPOSA president. Snr Supt Setsomi was the LEPOSA treasurer.

However, the two fell out after Snr Supt Setsomi reprimanded Compol Molibeli for a controversial statement in which the latter had claimed that he did not recognise Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing as the deputy prime minister. The LCD was then in a fractious coalition government with Mr Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC).

The fallout between Messrs Thabane and Metsing had led to the tensions in the national security agencies, mainly in the police and the army. So bad were the tensions that then police commissioner Khothatso T?ooana and army commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, were removed from their posts, under a deal brokered by SADC, and asked to go into temporary exile to cool the bedlam which had taken root in the security agencies under their leadership.

During Mr T?ooana’s farewell at the Police Training College, Compol Molibeli allegedly said he did not recognise Mr Metsing as a deputy prime minister.

Snr Supt Setsomi had then cautioned Compol Molibeli against the statement, telling the latter that it was wrong and totally unacceptable for a public servant to utter such statements.

Commissioner Molibeli, who was then a staunch ally of Mr Thabane did not take the statement kindly.

In February 2015, Mr Thabane’s ABC lost power to a seven-party coalition led by former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili. Mr Metsing, who had defected from his coalition with Mr Thabane, then retained his position as deputy prime minister under Mr Mosisili.

Fearing expulsion from the LMPS and possible forfeiture of his benefits, Compol Molibeli immediately signed up for early retirement as soon as the new Mosisili coalition took over.  When Mr Thabane bounced back into power in June 2017 after Mr Mosisili lost snap elections, he immediately returned Mr Molibeli from his retirement and appointed him acting commissioner. He confirmed him as substantive commissioner shortly thereafter. Commissioner Molibeli is then accused of having stifled the Lipolelo murder probe until only early this year when he had fallen out with Mr Thabane and the later was about to fire him.

Snr Supt Setsomi was among the officers who were promoted by then commissioner Molahlehi Letsoepa, who had taken over from Compol Tsooana after his firing by Mr Mosisili, just before Compol Molibeli’s return. Snr Supt Setsomi had been elevated to the rank of assistant commissioner of police. However, Compol Molibeli successfully petitioned the courts to nullify the promotion. Snr Supt Setsomi was already in exile when the petition was granted.

“Compol Molibeli never forgave Setsomi for cautioning him and he is now making him pay. Setsomi would have returned to work a long time ago if Molibeli wanted him to. He is just punishing him. Going for so long without a salary is a serious punishment,” a police source said.

In December 2017, while he was still in exile, Snr Supt Setsomi’s wife was presented with her husband’s dismissal letter from the police force. The basis of the dismissal was that he had disserted work.

But Snr Supt Setsomi and Mr Bereng returned in September 2019 after Mr Metsing’s intervention, on the promise they would get their jobs back on arrival.  Then police minister Prince Maliehe had publicly confirmed the two would return unhindered and be allowed to resume their positions.

“I was directed by coalition leaders to facilitate the safe return of these two gentlemen… I will ensure that they will be safe… they have no cases to answer,” Mr Maliehe had said before their return.

However, for Snr Supt Motsomi his life remains a harvest of thorns.

Compol Molibeli’s phone rang unanswered.

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