MASERU — A former accountant of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA), Peggy Thakeli, will spend the next eight years behind bars after the Court of Appeal on Friday threw out her appeal against conviction and sentence by the High Court.
Thakeli had appealed to the Court of Appeal after the High Court had last year slapped her with an eight-year jail term for facilitating the fraudulent transfer of M2.4 million from the LHDA’s ABSA bank account in South Africa to the First National Bank (FNB) account belonging to Soleman Sameer.
She was hoping that the Court of Appeal would stop both the conviction and sentence on account that her lawyer had not been allowed to cross-examine a handwriting expert to authenticate that she had indeed signed the document used in the fraudulent transaction.
But Justice DG Scott threw out her appeal and confirmed both the conviction and sentence condemning her to spend the next eight years in jail.
Justices John Smalberger and C T Howie concurred with Justice Scott’s ruling.
Thakeli’s lawyer, Advocate Motiea Teele, had told the Court of Appeal that Thakeli was not afforded a fair trial because her lawyer in the High Court Advocate Karabo Mohau was not able to cross-examine the handwriting expert, Adriaan Bam, during the trial.
Teele had told the Court of Appeal that Thakeli did not have a fair trial because Advocate Mohau refused a postponement of the trial which he sought on the grounds that he had not had the opportunity to consult another handwriting expert, Hendrik Du Toit.
Du Toit is the handwriting expert who testified on behalf of Thakeli in an attempt to counter Bam’s evidence.
Bam had testified in court that the handwriting on the form that gave instruction to ABSA bank to pay out the money belonged to Thakeli.
But the Court of Appeal on Friday dismissed the appeal on grounds that Thakeli knew about Bam’s evidence against her since 2005.
“The trial commenced on 20 February 2007. But some two years previously, in 2005, Bam had testified at the appellant’s disciplinary inquiry,” Justice Scott said.
“His evidence on that occasion was much the same as at the subsequent criminal trial.”
The Court of Appeal also said there were further postponements after Bam had testified so it could not be suggested that Thakeli’s lawyer did not have a chance to fully cross-examine Bam because he could have applied in court for Bam to be recalled for further cross-examination.
“The contention that the appellant did not have a fair trial is wholly without substance. The appeal against both the conviction and sentence is dismissed,” the judgment said.
According to evidence presented by the prosecution in the High Court, Thakeli’s fraudulent transfers were made under false pretence that Sameer was a contractor who had provided services to the LHDA when in fact he had not provided any services.
Thakeli was also found guilty on four counts of fraud in which she and her alleged lover, Steven Dlamini, forged quotations to make it look like the LHDA was the one buying construction materials from a fictitious hardware called Iketsetseng.
She was sentenced to six years in jail for two counts in which the LHDA had paid for the false quotes and she was sentenced to four years for two quotes in which LHDA did not make payments.
The sentences were to run concurrently.
Dlamini absconded in 2006 after the two magistrates tampered with the court records.
He was re-arrested in 2008 and his trial is still pending in the High Court.