Suspended Directorate on Criminal and Economic Offences (DCEO) Chief Investigations Officer, Thabiso Thibeli, on Tuesday broke down in parliament as he recounted his ordeal during the days leading up to his July 2019 suspension by the current DCEO Director General, Mahlomola Manyokole.
An emotional Mr Thibeli told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that Advocate Manyokole ordered his suspension to punish him for investigating some individuals who could be his (Adv Manyokole) friends for alleged corruption in the procurement of the government vehicle fleet.
Mr Thibeli also spoke about the February 2019 sacking of former DCEO boss, Adv Borotho Matsoso, saying one of the suspects in the government fleet tender had told him of plans to oust Adv Matsoso for investigating some Chinese nationals who were said to be close to the First Lady, 'Maesaiah Thabane.
Adv Manyokole however, denied allegations that he sought to block any high profile cases from being prosecuted. He told PAC that he had forwarded al the case files to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for prosecution.
Mr Thibeli said their investigations pointed to the principal secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Motena Tšolo, Senqu legislator, Likeleli Tampane, businessmen Teboho Tlokotsi and Tumo Ramonaheng and one 'Mafusi as the suspects in the government fleet tender.
So emotional was Mr Thibeli that he even broke into tears and for a while he failed to project his voice in an audible manner. PAC chairperson, Selibe Mochoboroane, had to give him time to compose himself before continuing his narration of the events that led to his dismissal.
The tender process, which was held in September 2018, failed to yield the required 341 vehicles after hundreds of applications were disqualified for failing to meet the requirements.
Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro first announced in March 2018 that cabinet had resolved to lease 1400 vehicles from Basotho who include taxi operators, disabled groups, youth, women's groups and legislators who were not cabinet ministers.
Others who were excluded from tendering are senior government officials such as directors in the ministries, principal secretaries and deputy ministers.
The Finance ministry however, received information that some of these officials could have either sneaked in their bids or used ordinary Basotho as "fronts" when the tender bids were submitted last September.
The DCEO was then roped in to investigate these allegations and according to sources, it discovered that some desperate vehicle owners were made to pay as much as M40 000 to have their vehicles leased to government.
Before he was removed from the top post, former DCEO Director General, Adv Matsoso, ordered Mr Thibeli to investigate the case and the investigations began late last year. In February 2019, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane sent Adv Matsoso on forced leave pending the expiry of his contract on 30 June 2019. Dr Thabane did not give reasons for the move which Adv Matsoso said "came as a shock" to him.
This week, Mr Thibeli told the PAC that his life was turned upside down a few days after Adv Manyokole assumed office on 8 July 2019. He said the new DCEO boss ordered him to submit the files for all the high-profile cases he had been investigating.
Mr Thibeli who was investigating the government fleet tender together with another officer, one Mr Nthabi, said he had to collect files of all other high-profile cases delegated to other investigating officers to hand them over to Adv Manyokole.
He said by the time he received these instructions they had already completed their investigations and the case had been submitted to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for prosecution.
"Our investigations were complete and I had already called all the suspects to inform them that their cases would be heard in the courts. That was on 18 July 2018 and later that day I received a letter from the DG (Adv Manyokole)'s office to hand over all high profile cases.
"He also ordered me to inform him before I undertook any enforcement measures against any individual or company. That demand shocked me because in the 10 years that I have worked at the DCEO I had never heard of it," Mr Thibeli said.
He said that at about 4: 45pm that same day, he received another mail from the Adv Manyokole ordering him to hand over all the firearms and inventory of all exhibits in his custody by 9am the following day (19 July 2019).
Mr Thibeli said it was impossible to meet the deadline because he still had to collect all the exhibits from other investigating officers and some of them were on leave.
He said he requested an extension of the deadline to submit everything but Adv Manyokole refused to grant his request.
Upon failing to meet the deadline, he said Adv Manyokole then demanded that he "show cause" why he should not be suspended for "misconduct and offences in that some DCEO firearms disappeared in your custody without justification". He was subsequently suspended on 23 July 2019.
An emotional Mr Thibeli said he was convinced that Adv Manyokole ordered his suspension to punish him for investigating some individuals who could be his (Adv Manyokole) friends.
"I was convinced that Adv Manyokole and PS Tšolo had a friendly relationship because she once told me during a phone conversation that I should snap out of the case and let the director general (Adv Manyokole) handle it. I have also seen him hang out with Ntate Tlokotsi at a local eatery which made me conclude that they had a friendly relationship. So, I figured that I was suspended so that he (Adv Manyokole) could block the cases from going to court," Mr Thibeli told PAC.
Mr Thibeli said he was reluctant to take the case when it was first assigned to him by his former boss, Adv Matsoso.
He said that he had a good relationship with Mr Tlokotsi which was soiled when the latter called him for a meeting and told him that Adv Matsoso would be fired because he was after the First Lady 'Maesaiah Thabane's "Chinese nationals".
"Ntate Tlokotsi told me that they wanted to remove Ntate Matsoso from his position and have me replace him because he was after Mme Liabiloe (Ms Thabane) 's Chinese nationals. I told him I would never do anything to hurt my boss (Adv Matsoso) and that anyone who wanted to hurt him would be hurting me too. I have never spoken to Ntate Tlokotsi since that day," Mr Thibeli said.
On his part, Adv Manyokole vehemently denied allegations that he was appointed to block any high profile cases from being prosecuted.
Adv Manyokole said he only requested for all the high profile cases because he wanted to review them and the government fleet procurement happened to be one of those cases.
"I asked for the cases because I am allowed by the law to review and familiarise myself with them. It is not true that I wanted to block the cases from being prosecuted. I reviewed the fleet procurement case and send it to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Hlalefang Motinyane, who had also requested to review the case. I have not defeated the ends of justice because I also made recommendations that all suspects be prosecuted except for PS Tšolo because I had learnt that there was no substantial evidence against her.
"I realised that Ms Tšolo's alleged involvement in the fraudulent awarding of tenders for the government fleet was just a political agenda being pushed against her.
"But I submitted the docket to the DPP. I did not remove anything from it despite my discovery that there was only hearsay evidence against PS Tšolo. I also wanted to the docket out of my office because I had already heard allegations that I was trying to block the cases from being prosecuted. I had already been interrogated by Police Commissioner, Holomo Molibeli, on the same accusations and I told him that I had submitted the docket in its original form," Adv Manyokole said.
He said if at all she said it, it was wrong for Ms Tšolo to tell Mr Thibeli that he could not handle the case, thereby insinuating that he (Adv Manyokole) could protect her from being investigated.
He however, said Ms Tšolo told him that he did not want to see Mr Thibeli again because he had intimidated her.
Mr Tlokotsi denied involvement in the illegal procurement of the government fleet.
"I had no involvement in the procurement of the government fleet nor did I ever bid for the tender. I have not received any bribe to get anyone's vehicles to be procured. All I ever did was to make a proposal to supply the fleet for the prime minister and his deputy," Mr Tlokotsi told the PAC.