26 Chinese deported

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MASERU — Twenty-six Chinese nationals were this week detained at the Moshoeshoe I Airport for two days after they landed in Lesotho without proper documentation.
The group of Chinese, mostly males, arrived on Monday night on a plane they are reported to have chartered from Mozambique.
Although the 26 had Lesotho visas they did not have return tickets or enough money to sustain themselves during their stay in Lesotho.
They were detained together with three crew members who are all South Africans.
And yesterday morning the group was deported back to Mozambique despite their protestations and attempts by some people, who claimed to be their relatives, to have them allowed to enter the country.
The Directorate of Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO), the immigration department and the National Security Service are investigating the matter.
Sources close to the issue said the investigators want to find out if the 26 are not victims of human trafficking or syndicates smuggling Chinese nationals into Lesotho and South Africa.
A source who is closely involved with the inquiry told the Lesotho Times that there is also suspicion that the group could have been trying to use Lesotho as a corridor into South Africa which has stringent visa requirements.
He said some of the Chinese had told investigators that they had come to visit relatives in Lesotho while others said they were en-route to South Africa to seek jobs.
The investigators are also eager to find out if their visas, which were all issued by the Lesotho Embassy in China except one, are genuine.
The other visa was issued in Maseru.
The investigations could also spread to the foreign affairs ministry, Lesotho diplomats in China and the immigration department.
This paper was also told on Tuesday that the DCEO started investigating the case after they noticed an increase in the number of chartered planes bringing Chinese nationals into Lesotho.
“We now know that on May 22 there was another plane that landed with twenty-something Chinese and on June 22 another plane landed with almost the same number of people,” the source said.
He said more chartered planes had brought the Chinese into the country since January.
“It is not cheap to charter a plane so the question we should be asking is who is behind these people,” he said.
“When you look at the 26 Chinese we caught on Monday it is unbelievable they could afford to charter a plane. Why charter a plane when you can fly cheaply into South Africa and Lesotho using commercial flights?”
The other question, the source said, is why “someone travelling to South Africa would need to land in Lesotho first?”
He said the explanations they got from the groups were not “believable”.
“They are telling all sorts of stories. But when you ask them why they do not have return tickets they can’t answer.”
They all said they were going to an undisclosed address in Maseru West.
The plane was initially scheduled to arrive in Maseru on Sunday, according to officials from the aviation department.
The source said the DCEO investigators got a tip-off and decided to camp at the airport.
“We were on guard on Sunday but nothing happened. We took turns to guard,” said one of the investigators.
“Then on Monday evening the plane landed.”
He said they knew from experience that the planes bringing the Chinese never arrive on the date they would have been booked to land at the airport.
“The trend is that these chartered planes always arrive a day before or after their scheduled day of landing,” he said.
The plane is owned by a Marias Thomson who is based in Pretoria.
The plane had been chartered through Mozambique Airlines, a company based in Maputo, Mozambique.
The landing permit had listed three registration numbers.
The Director of Civil Aviation, Ketso Moeketsi, said there was nothing wrong with the permit.
“The registration of a flight is not of paramount importance, because the permit is given to a legal entity, which in this case is the Mozambique Airlines. The registered flight might change due to several reasons but it does not change the legality of the permit,” Moeketsi said.
“For some reasons I don’t know other entities like the National Security Services and the police had their own suspicions of which we as the civil aviation had no part to play.”
DCEO spokesperson Litelu Ramokhoro said that this was a clear indication the anti-corruption strategy is working.
“This is just the beginning but investigations continue.”
An official at the Chinese Embassy in Maseru said the embassy could not comment because their spokesperson was not available.
“Nobody can answer your questions about it. You can ask the home affairs ministry because they are dealing with the matter,” said the official who refused to give his name.
Police spokesperson Masupha Masupha said there were no investigations being carried out about the coming of the Chinese.
Masupha said the police decided that the Chinese should go back to Mozambique because they were not supposed to be in Lesotho.
“They were suspicious and upon closer look we realised that they did not have necessary papers to be in Lesotho,” Masupha said.
The principal secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs Retselisitsoe Khetsi said Lesotho was strengthening its entry points to ensure that such incidents will not happen again.
“We have established a working team made up of the foreign affairs ministry, our department of immigration and the public works ministry to deal with the issue,” Khetsi said.
The civil aviation department falls under the public works ministry.

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