Contoversial Pakistani national, Rama Qamar, who has been accused of human trafficking alongside some senior government officials, could also have been involved in the equally heinous crime of drug trafficking, the Lesotho Times has learnt.
Mr Qamar's alleged criminality prompted His Majesty King Letsie III's Senior Private Secretary (SPS), Monehela Posholi, to implore the police to probe the controversial Pakistani because he was allegedly selling drugs to, among others, National University of Lesotho (NUL) students putting their futures at stake. But nothing seems to have been done by the police, then under the control of former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane's coalition.
Information obtained by the Lesotho Times this week shows that Mr Qamar's alleged trafficking activities are not a recent phenomenon. They had even raised the concerns of His Majesty's office which urged action to protect Lesotho's vulnerable but seemingly to no avail.
The illegal activities began many years ago and involved what appears to have been a well-orchestrated plan in which Lesotho was used as a conduit to receive illegal Pakistanis whose end destination was South Africa. But not only was Mr Qamar, who reportedly fled Lesotho last year, at the centre of the illicit trade of trafficking humans, he was also trading in drugs, prompting Mr Posholi to implore authorities to probe him.
Lesotho is sitting on the brink after the United States government downgraded the country to Tier 3, the lowest layer in the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report for 2020. The downgrade threatens to expose Lesotho to a host of US sanctions including losing development and trade aid unless stern action is taken to halt trafficking and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Mr Qamar had been fingered by Immigration Manager, Mapeete Jonathan, as the mastermind of human trafficking activities. Ms Jonathan has in court papers also accused officials of Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu's Democratic Congress (DC) of working with Mr Qamar. Mr Mokhothu has vehemently denied the allegations. Ms Jonathan makes the allegations in her November 2020 High Court application to stop her transfer from the Moshoeshoe I International Airport to the ministry's head office in Maseru.
It emerged this week that Ms Jonathan was not the only one to express concerns about Mr Qamar's alleged dark dealings. This publication has learnt that in 2017 Mr Posholi, the SPS to His Majesty King Letsie, requested then Home Affairs Principal Secretary (PS), 'Machabana Lemphane-Letsie, and her then Police and Public Safety counterpart, Khothatso Tšooana, to investigate Mr Qamar for human and drug trafficking.
The Lesotho Times has seen a copy of the email Mr Posholi wrote to Ms Lemphane-Letsie and Mr Tšooana on 20 November 2017 demanding the probe into Mr Qamar's alleged activities.
"I am sending the attached correspondence for your kind attention.
"While this may easily be discarded as junk mail, the contents thereof are quite worrying and may require further investigation to establish their authenticity," Mr Posholi wrote to Ms Lemphane-Letsie and Mr Tšooana. This was in reference to an email he had received on 18 November 2017 from a whistle-blower requesting him to investigate Mr Qamar.
The email Mr Posholi forwarded to the two principal secretaries stated follows:
"Sir, how are you? Today I want to give you big information about a human trafficking and drugs dealer in your country Lesotho. This smuggler's name is Qamar Rana from Pakistan. He gets fake visas from Lesotho's immigration and (political) parties which he gives lots of money. You can check with the courier company (DHL) what he would be sending to Pakistan every day.
"Qamar sends thousands of Pakistanis to Lesotho after which he pushes them to South Africa. When he sends the Pakistanis to Lesotho, he puts drugs in their bags and Maseru airport officers, who are involved, never check the bags. He gets drugs easily (into Lesotho) and then supplies the National University of Lesotho students in Roma. Please sir you must investigate Qamar as many students are now addicted to drugs."
The informant also urged Mr Posholi to investigate the type of business Mr Qamar was engaged in in Lesotho and why he had to travel to Pakistan every month. Mr Posholi's informant alleged that Mr Qamar's so-called legit businesses were merely fronts to conceal his illicit human and drug trafficking operations.
"Sir you can check the record of visas which were issued to Pakistanis who visited Lesotho. You will realise that none of them returns to Pakistan. Please sir save the new generation from drugs. This kingdom must investigate its immigration officials and Qamar, and give a high punishment to those involved. I hope you will take best action against this smuggler. I love Lesotho," the informant stated in his email to Mr Posholi.
Mr Posholi confirmed receiving the informant's email in an interview with the Lesotho Times this week. He also confirmed emailing Ms Lemphane-Letsie and Mr Tšooana and requesting them to investigate the human and drug trafficking claims against Mr Qamar.
Asked what became of the investigations, Mr Posholi said, "I was not expecting feedback from them (Lemphane-Letsie and Tšooana) as investigations were not part of my work. I was notifying them of the shocking email I had just received for them to do something about it."
Ms Lemphane-Letsie and her counterpart, Mr Tšooana- a former police commissioner- were not reachable for comment as their mobile phones rang unanswered till we went to press. But it seems nothing came out of Mr Posholi's exhortations.
A report to the Director of Immigration, Mantšebo Motšoanakaba, by Immigration Manager, Mapeete Jonathan, obtained by the Lesotho Times this week suggests that the alleged trafficking of Pakistanis and Chinese had been an ongoing thing. The report says the immigration department denied entry to at least 28 Pakistanis who sought to illegally enter the country through the Moshoeshoe I International Airport between 2017 and 2020. The Pakistanis had attempted to enter the country, through Mr Qamar's help, Ms Jonathan alleges in the undated report which has been added to her court documents.
Ms Jonathan is currently locked in a legal battle with the Home Affairs ministry over its 2020 decision to transfer her from the airport to the ministry's head office in Maseru.
In her court papers filed last November, Ms Jonathan alleges that she was being transferred as punishment for refusing to allow Mr Qamar to "traffick" two Pakistanis into the country through the airport in March 2020.
She further alleges that she was reliably informed by a fellow unnamed immigration officer that Mr Qamar, who is married to a Mosotho woman, is close to Democratic Congress officials, an allegation the party's leader Mathibeli Mokhothu has vehemently denied.
Mr Mokhothu has also rejected allegations that Mr Qamar gave his party six campaign vehicles during the June 2017 snap elections. But Ms Jonathan is adamant that Mr Qamar has leverage over the Home Affairs ministry, which is controlled by the DC, on account of the alleged donation and orchestrated her transfer after she refused his two fellow Pakistanis entry into the country in March 2020.
In her separate report to Ms Motšoanakaba, Ms Jonathan alleges that human trafficking activities were already rife as far back as 2014 when she started working at the Moshoeshoe I International Airport. She said the illegal activities involved the trafficking of Chinese and Pakistanis who would arrive at the airport with fake documents. Once they had entered the country, some would then skip the country's porous borders to their end destination in South Africa.
"In 2014, I was transferred from Maseru to manage Thaba Tseka as well as Moshoeshoe I International Airport where I worked for a year. While there, I learned that there were many Chinese people entering the country but were using illicit residence permits," Ms Jonathan states her report.
"I worked hard with my immigration counterparts to eradicate this issue. I reported the matter to my then management but to no avail. Instead of getting help, I experienced terrifying resentment from some people. Nonetheless, we still pushed hard until we found a solution with the assistance of the Directorate of Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) and some of the illicit permit holders were arrested and taken to court."
Ms Jonathan states that in 2015 she was transferred to Maputsoe and only returned to Moshoeshoe I International Airport in 2017. This was when she claims she was allegedly welcomed by the "huge influx of Pakistanis illegally entering the country through the airport".
"I discovered that Pakistanis enter Lesotho in large numbers using fraudulent visas. We then started repatriating those who were not supposed to be in the country. We received a lot of resistance from these people when they had to return to their homeland. This made some of the foreigners' sponsors (sic) living in the country very resentful towards me so much that some threw threats (sic) and blackmails.
"The issue continued until 2020 where they were now using illicit e-visas to enter the country. It was then that I learned that upon arriving in Lesotho via the airport, most of these people are picked up and immediately transferred to South Africa through the ground ports."
Ms Jonathan alleges that in March 2020 she was even called by a member of parliament whom she claims demanded that she frees the two Pakistanis she had denied entry into the country and detained at the airport.
She said she declined and the legislator then sought a face-to-face meeting where she again refused to allow the Pakistanis entry.
Shortly afterwards, Mr Qamar visited the airport to demand the release of the two Pakistanis and their safe passage into Lesotho, Ms Jonathan alleges.
"On 6 March 2020, two more Pakistanis arrived. After a rigorous interview with them, I decided to deny them entry. While I was planning for their return, I then reported the matter to the Director of Immigration. I then received a call from one MP asking me to just let those people in, but I failed to comply with the request.
"After this he (the same MP) asked me to meet him and I told him I was at the Immigration Head Office where he came. His request was still to help free those Pakistani men. I explained the reasons that would prevent me from releasing then but asked him to take his request to the Director of Immigration (Motšoanakaba) instead and he did.
"After they had met, I went to the director's office. That is when a Pakistani man by the name of Rama Qamar came in the director's office and asked the director to release those people who were still at the airport. It was at this moment when I realised that the Pakistanis who were denied entry were this man's (Qamar) people.
"He went to ask for assistance but the director denied his request. I went ahead with the arrangement for the Pakistanis to return to their homeland. On 8 March 2020 they boarded a South African Airlink flight," Ms Jonathan states in her report.
Although she does not name the MP who requested the release of the two Pakistanis in her report, Ms Jonathan identifies DC MP and current Mining Minister Serialong Qoo as the MP in question in her November 2020 court application to stop her transfer from the airport.
Home Affairs Principal Secretary Tumelo Raboletsi and the Attorney General Haae Phoofolo are the respondents in the matter.
On 19 November 2020 her lawyer, Advocate Salemane Phafane and the respondents' lawyer, Adv Molise Molise, appeared before Justice Molefi Makara who issued an interim order blocking Ms Jonathan's transfer pending the finalisation of her application. The parties have since agreed to negotiate an out of court settlement. Justice Makara ordered them to appear before him on 10 February 2021 to report on the progress of their talks towards the settlement.
*Additional Reporting and Editing by Herbert Moyo