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PM, DPM backed Metsing’s bail application: Rakuoane

Lesotho's widely read newspaper, published every Thursday and distributed throughout the country and in some parts of South Africa.

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LAW and Justice Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane has said that Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro and his deputy, Mathibeli Mokhothu, supported former Deputy Prime Minister Mothetjoa Metsing’s bail application in the Ladybrand Magistrates’ Court last month.

In an interview, Advocate Rakuoane said he consulted the two coalition government principals on the matter and only then did he write to his South African counterpart, Ronald Lamola, indicating that the government did not have any objections to Mr Metsing being granted bail in Ladybrand.

Adv Rakuoane was speaking in the wake of criticism from some judicial sources over his role in assisting the fugitive Mr Metsing to be granted bail in Ladybrand last month.

The former deputy prime minister, who leads the opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) had been arrested on the South African side of the Maseru Bridge border.

He was arrested after he had gone to South African immigration officials to extend his stay in that country. He fled to South Africa in December 2021 to avoid standing trial for treason and murder alongside Development Planning Minister Selibe Mochoboroane, former army commander Tlali Kamoli, army officers Captain Litekanyo Nyakane, Lance Corporals Motloheloa Ntsane and Leutsoa Motsieloa.

Although he still has those treason and murder charges hanging over his head, he was arrested on the basis of the previous Thomas Thabane administration’s 2018 application for his extradition to stand trial for corruption, fraud and tax evasion.    Those charges arose from his alleged role in facilitating an allegedly corrupt tender for roads construction in Maseru and the alleged kickbacks he got from the contractor.

He was freed on bail after Adv Rakuoane wrote to his South African counterpart, Lamola, stating that the Lesotho government did “not have any objection to the suspect being granted bail on the terms and conditions set by the court”.

Nevertheless, Mr Metsing’s legal battles are far from over.  A warrant for his arrest issued by Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane after he absconded from court over the treason and murder charges in December 2021 is still outstanding.

Due to the existence of that warrant that, some legal experts had then criticised Adv Rakuoane for writing to Mr Lamola in support of his bail application.

An authoritative legal source said the warrant should have been used as an aggravating circumstance to oppose bail and expedite efforts to get Mr Metsing back into the country.

But Adv Rakuoane has defended himself, saying he only wrote the letter after getting the go-ahead from the governing coalition principals.

“That was the decision of the prime minister and his deputy,” Adv Rakuoane said of the decision not to oppose Mr Metsing’s bail application.

“Even my own advisers indicated that they had no objections with Mr Metsing being granted bail. I did not just wake up and scribble that letter without any advice,” he said.

When it was pointed out that some judiciary officers had argued that a golden opportunity had been missed to have Mr Metsing arrested so he could be extradited back to Lesotho to face treason and murder charges, Adv Rakuoane said this could not have been done because “proper procedures” had not been followed. He said it would have been “unprocedural” to extradite the fugitive leader to face the treason and murder charges on the basis of a 2018 extradition request for him to stand trial for an entirely different charge of corruption.

The right procedure would have been for the judiciary to apply for a fresh extradition on the basis of the treason and murder charges, Adv Rakuoane said.

The minister also said that it would not have been proper to try and extradite Mr Metsing before the High Court has ruled on his latest application for the cancellation of the warrant of arrest in connection with the treason and murder charges.

In that same 17 June 2022 High Court application, Mr Metsing also wants to be granted bail and tried in absentia because his life has allegedly been threatened by former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and other unnamed politicians.

However, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane, is strongly opposed to Mr Metsing being granted bail or be tried in absentia.

In her court papers filed in opposition to Mr Metsing’s application, she insists that the state has a strong case against the fugitive LCD leader and his co-accused.

She argues that he has tried everything to stop the state from trying him and he had already proved that he can flee the country to evade justice.