Lesotho: Mofomobe, Mochoboroane in Nasty Fight Over Treason Claims

The Lesotho flag.

A nasty war of words has broken out between Basotho National Party (BNP) deputy leader Machesetsa Mofomobe and opposition Movement for Economic Change (MEC) leader Selibe Mochoboroane over the latter's allegations that Mr Mofomobe and BNP leader Thesele 'Maseribane instigated the treason charges against him.

A fortnight ago Mr Mochoboroane was charged with treason alongside Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) leader Mothetjoa Metsing, former army commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli and an army officer, Captain Litekanyo Nyakane.

The charges are in connection with the 30 August 2014 attempted coup against the first government of current Prime Minister Thomas Thabane. Mr Metsing was deputy prime minister at the time of the attempted coup while Mr Mochoboroane was Communications minister and LCD secretary general. The LCD was in a coalition with Dr Thabane's All Basotho Convention (ABC) and the BNP at the time. Lt-Gen Kamoli had been fired by Dr Thabane from his post as army commander on 29 August 2014 before allegedly orchestrating the 30 August 2014 attempted coup allegedly with the support of Messrs Metsing, Mochoboroane and Captain Nyakane. Dr Thabane and Mr Metsing had fallen out after the latter alleged that he was not being consulted on key decisions.

Lt-Gen Kamoli and Captain Nyakane are already in prison charged with the murder of police Sub-Inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko which occurred on 30 August 2014 during the attempted coup. In the murder trial, they are charged along with other soldiers, Lance Corporal Motloheloa Ntsane and Lance Corporal Leutsoa Motsieloa.

Mr Metsing and his co-accused were supposed to stand trial for treason on 25 February 2020 but the trial was postponed after he and Mr Mochoboroane applied to the Constitutional Court for an order to stop their trial at least until after the implementation of the constitutional, security sector, media, judicial and governance reforms recommended by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2016.

In the aftermath of the postponement of the treason trial last week, Mr Mochoboroane addressed a press conference where he accused Chief 'Maseribane and Mr Mofomobe of conniving with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane to prosecute him.

He alleged that the trio were victimising him for leading a PAC investigation into the awarding of the controversial M380 million Mpilo Boulevard tender as well as the M26 million tender scam involving controversial Chinese businessman Yan Xie and four local companies for the supply of park homes.

The park homes scandal is centred on allegations that the four local companies were paid a total of M26 million by the Ministry of Home Affairs on 22 March 2019. However, the money was immediately fraudulently transferred into Mr Xie's accounts by the controversial businessman's employees. It is alleged that Mr Xie -- popularly known as John -- had access to the four companies' accounts after he had helped them to fund the tenders. He had funded them on the basis that he would control 51 percent equity in each of the companies as well as have access to their bank accounts to protect his investments.

When payments were finally made to the companies, Mr Xie swept the account leaving them with nothing. PAC is investigating allegations that some ministers including Home Affairs deputy Minister Mr Mofomobe committed a crime by concealing fraud because of their failure to report the whole matter to the police once they had become aware of Mr Xie's alleged fraud. The law requires every citizen to report any criminal offence to the police once they become aware of it.

Addressing the media on Tuesday, Mr Mochoboroane said he was unfazed by the treason charges which were "politically motivated".

"You will remember that I am the chairperson of Public Accounts Committee and after the scandal of M26 million park homes tender and the M380 million Mpilo road tender, that is when I learned I would be charged for high treason. But I will not be fazed by the charges which are politically motivated.

"My suspicion is that the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs (Mr Mofomobe) is afraid of something. There are two or three people who are interested in the matter as it is not being pushed by the Prime Minister (Thomas Thabane) or his deputy (Monyane Moleleki). It is being pushed by 'Maseribane, Machesetsa and the DPP. I also learned that the trio met on 7 February 2020 and that the BNP leader met the DPP and (Prosecutor Shaun) Abrahams to push this matter.

"Treason charges are supposed to be pressed by the government of the day and if they want to pursue treason charges, they should start from 1998 when the BNP participated in acts to topple the (then LCD) government," Mr Mochoboroane said.

Mr Mochoboroane's allegations have not gone down well with Mr Mofomobe who addressed a BNP rally in the 'Makhoroana constituency and demanded that the former retract his claims against him or face a defamation lawsuit.

Mr Mofomobe described Mr Mochoboroane as a "traitor", adding it was wrong for the MEC leader to accuse the BNP of instigating the treason charges when it was an "immutable fact" that he (Mr Mochoboroane) was part of the 2014 coup attempt.

"There is a traitor from Thabana Morena by the name of Mochoboroane. He blames the BNP for the charges for the crimes he has committed. We were not there in August 2014 when he went around with soldiers switching off radio stations," Mr Mofomobe said.

Mr Mofomobe added that Mr Mochoboroane had no place to hide because there was no denying the attempted coup of 30 August 2014.

"He (Mr Mochoboroane) cannot get himself out of the treason charges because it cannot be denied that in August 2014 radio stations were switched off, police stations were attacked and a policeman (Sub-Inspector Mokheseng) Ramahloko was killed. Now this boy (Mr Mochoboroane) wants to blame the BNP because his sins have become too heavy for him. We will not allow that and we are not intimidated by the congress (parties)," Mr Mofomobe said.

But Mr Mochoboroane this week insisted that the treason charges were instigated by the BNP and he would not apologise for saying that.

"I will not retract the truth... . I would rather be imprisoned or die for the truth," Mr Mochoboroane said, adding that the charges against him were unfounded. He said if anyone were to be charged with treason, it had to be Chief 'Maseribane for his contribution to the political turmoil of 1998. The BNP and the Basotho Congress Party (BCP)'s refusal to accept the LCD's victory in the 1998 general elections ignited riots in the country. The two parties alleged that the LCD had rigged the polls.

During the disturbances, which were also characterised by an army mutiny, parts of Maseru were destroyed and the economy lurched into a recession.

Law and order were only restored by a SADC military intervention requested by Pakalitha Mosisili who was prime minister at the time.

Mr Mochoboroane said, "We should have seen the first treason charges levelled against Chief Thesele 'Maseribane for his contribution to the 1998 political unrest".

"What they are now trying to cook here is baseless. The Mpaphi Phumaphi Commission Report (commissioned by SADC in 2015) does not mention my name anywhere in connection with treason and there is no recommendation for my arrest. This is despite the fact that the then BNP deputy leader, Chief Joang Molapo, mentioned my name in that commission's inquiry. But because it was all nonsense I was never even summoned before the commission.

"But now we talking about Chief 'Maseribane who has done so many things in 1998 and who should be charged for treason. If they feel that I have defamed them and that Chief 'Maseribane was not involved in the 1998 unrest they can go ahead and sue me," Mr Mochoboroane said.

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