…claims he feared torture at the hands of police in connection with leaked government gazette
A SENIOR Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) officer Assistant Superintendent Ramahetlane Percy Bereng has skipped the country for South Africa after being called for questioning by the police over the leaking of a government gazette.
Asst-Supt Bereng fled from the police headquarters in Maseru on Thursday where he and another man, Mohau Lebajoa had been called in for interrogation in relation to the leaking of a government gazette which announced the appointment of South African judge Justice Yvonne Mokgoro as acting president of the Court of Appeal.
The leaked government gazette was used by three prominent lawyers as the basis for their successful March 2018 lawsuit against the appointment of Justice ‘Maseshophe Hlajoane as the acting Court of Appeal President.
The government gazette, which was never made public, stated that Justice Mokgoro had been appointed to the post of acting president of the Court of Appeal on 27 February this year. Justice Mokgoro did not assume the position after the Thomas Thabane administration decided to appoint Justice Hlajoane instead. The appointment of Justice Hlajoane was nullified after a constitutional court challenge by three prominent lawyers.
The three lawyers Zwelakhe Mda, Karabo Mohau and Qhalehang Letsika successfully argued in March this year that the appointment of Justice Hlajoane violates the constitution because she was appointed when the government had already appointed Justice Mokgoro to the same position on 27 February this year.
Dr Thabane and his lawyers have argued that the three lawyers should be prosecuted on the grounds that they had based their case on a government gazette that had been illegally obtained as it was never officially published.
PM Thabane wants the three lawyers charged for violating the Official Secrets Act and the Internal Security Act. He also accused the trio of being a dangerous group of people who sought to destabilise the country by illegally acquiring and using confidential state documents.
It was against the background of investigations into the leaking of the government gazette that Asst-Supt Bereng and Mohau Lebajoa who works at the government printers were recently called in by the police for questioning.
Asst-Supt Bereng subsequently fled from the police headquarters while awaiting his turn to be questioned. He alleged that he had fled in fear of being tortured after seeing that Mr Lebajoa had been tortured by police during his interrogation.
Asst-Supt Bereng narrated his ‘ordeal’ at the hands of the police in an audio clip. He said he was summoned to the police headquarters and upon his arrival on Thursday, he was asked who had used him to illegally obtain the government gazette which was never officially released by the government.
“I was asked who had used me to obtain the gazette and it was clear from their (the police) utterances that they were accusing me for having been used,” Asst-Supt Bereng states in the audio clip.
“They (the police) told me that there was an employee in the government printing department (Mr Lebajoa) who said that I had asked him to leak the gazette.
“I was taken in to the interrogation room to identify the employee (Mr Lebajoa) and I confirmed that I know him very well as he is a friend whom I work with at the National Services Committee where we organise government events. He (Mr Lebajoa) was in a bad shape and I could tell that he had been coerced into implicating me in the leakage (of the government gazette).”
Asst-Supt Bereng, whose interrogation was supposed to have commenced after that of Mr Lebajoa, subsequently escaped from the waiting room allegedly in fear that he could be tortured by police as well. Mr Lebajoa was released from police custody on Thursday where he had spent the previous night. His release followed an urgent High Court application by his lawyer Advocate Qhalehang Letsika.
Police spokesperson Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli confirmed that Asst-Supt Bereng fled before he could be fully questioned.
“Yes we have such a person Asst-Supt Bereng who fled the police headquarters when he was due for questioning. However, we are not looking for him as our person of interest was his friend (Mr Lebajoa).
“The other suspect (Mr Lebajoa) was released on Thursday after an urgent application was filed by his lawyer,” Supt Mopeli said. He however, denied Asst-Supt Bereng’s suggestions that Mr Lebajoa could have been tortured by the police.
LCS spokesperson Superintendent Neo Mopeli also confirmed that Asst-Supt Bereng had been called in for questioning by the police.
“The police recently notified us that they would like to have the cooperation of Asst-Supt Bereng in some investigations they were making, but we are in the dark regarding his whereabouts as of now,” Supt Mopeli recently told the Sunday Express.
Asst-Supt Bereng was not reachable for comment and sources close to the case told this publication that he had surrendered his mobile phone to the police prior to his escape.
Asst-Supt Bereng’s escape from the police headquarters is the second such incident since the alleged escape of fraud-accused ’Makarabo Mojakhomo on 31 May this year.
Ms Mojakhomo was arrested on 29 May this year for alleged fraud and theft of at least M200 000 from First Lady ’Maesaiah Thabane’s Trust Fund. She was due in court on 31 May but failed to appear after the police claimed she had escaped from custody while they were preparing to take her to court.
But Ms Mojakhomo’s family came out guns blazing insisting there is no way that she could have broken out of tightly guarded police cells. The family subsequently petitioned the High Court for an order for the police to produce her dead or alive.
The family cited social media reports that she could have been murdered by the police as one of the reasons for its bid to have her produced before the court. They even subpoenaed Ms Thabane and the Police minister, ’Mampho Mokhele to testify before the court as their testimony “would assist the court to reach a conclusion as to whether or not ’Makarabo escaped from police custody or was made to disappear by the police”.
However, in a dramatic turn of events last week, the family’s lawyer, Advocate Letuka Molati, wrote to the Commissioner of Police, Holomo Molibeli, informing him that Ms Mojakhomo was alive and well in an unknown location in South Africa. Adv Molati stated that contrary to the police allegations, Ms Mojakhomo did not escape but “was abducted with the direct help of the police from the police custody”.
Commissioner Molibeli addressed the media on Tuesday and said the police’s negligence enabled Ms Mojakhomo to ‘disappear’ from police custody.
Commissioner Molibeli said the fact that the suspect was a woman contributed to the police’s complacency as they did not employ the normal full security measures like deploying a heavy guard and handcuffing the suspect as they do when the suspect is male.