Lesotho’s prime minister failed to show up in court to face charges of murdering his estranged wife.

Thomas Thabane might have gone to neighbouring South Africa for an undisclosed ailment, police said.

Thabane’s current wife, Maesaiah, has also been charged with murder over the 2017 shooting of Lipolelo Thabane.

She had briefly fled the kingdom for South Africa, avoiding a police summons.

Deputy commissioner of police Paseka Mokete, who led the investigation, said he had heard rumours that the 80-year-old prime minister had gone to South Africa for a medical check-up.

He added: ‘I have spoken to Thabane’s lawyer and he told me he is not aware of the prime minister’s whereabouts. We are now waiting for him to return so that he can be charged.’

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Thabane is the first sitting prime minister in Lesotho to be charged with any crime.

He had announced he would step down by the end of July, if not sooner, amid pressure from the ruling party, which says he is no longer fit to rule.

Lipolelo had been estranged from Thabane, who had filed for divorce when she was shot dead near her Maseru home on the night of June 14 2017.

Her friend, Thato Sibolla, who was travelling with her in the car, escaped with gunshot wounds and has since fled to South Africa in fear for her life.

The attack occurred just two days before Thabane was sworn in for his second stint as prime minister.

Scores of people, including politicians from Thabane’s party, thronged the court on Friday to witness proceedings but were left disappointed.