MASERU — Former Commissioner of Refugees, Francis Sefali, appeared before Chief Magistrate ’Matankiso Nthunya to answer a charge of fraud yesterday.
Sefali is accused of fraudulently assisting businessman Eyob Asemie to get Lesotho citizenship and naturalisation papers.
Sefali, 42, who is currently the Director of Administration at the Central Bank of Lesotho, was remanded out of custody on M1 500 bail and a surety of M20 000.
He was ordered not to interfere with crown witnesses and tamper with investigations.
He will appear again before the magistrate on April 5 while his trial has been scheduled for May 13 and 14.
His lawyer Advocate Patrick Tšenoli said Sefali would not abscond because he is a Lesotho citizen, a former senior official at the Ministry of Home Affairs and currently holds a position at the Central Bank of Lesotho.
“He knew about this case a while ago and he has been cooperative with investigators and he appeared before this court,” Tšenoli said.
The prosecution alleges that Sefali “unlawfully and with intention to defraud Director of Immigration or Home Affairs Minister produced a document that said Asemie had lived for five years in Lesotho so that he qualifies to be granted Lesotho citizenship”.
The crime allegedly happened in January 2009.
The Home Affairs Ministry has repeatedly denied Asemie an opportunity to be sworn-in as a Lesotho citizen on suspicions that he acquired a passport fraudulently.
The authorities questioned how Asemie acquired the Lesotho passport even before he was sworn-in as a citizen of Lesotho.
They also argued that he was issued with the passport even before he spent five years in Lesotho as required by the law.
Asemie tried to put pressure on the government to grant him citizenship by seeking the Ombudsman’s intervention.
In December 2010 Alina Fanana, the then Ombudsman, recommended that Asemie should be sworn-in as a citizen after hearing Sefali’s evidence that he qualified to be a citizen.
Fanana found that Asemie arrived in Lesotho in 2003 and sought political asylum and after a year-long screening he was accorded refugee status.
Sefali told Fanana that in 2003 it took him about a year to investigate whether it was true that Asemie “was so politically involved and active to an extent that he had to flee his country” at such a young age.
But even after the Ombudsman’s recommendations the Home Affairs Ministry still refused to grant him citizenship, insisting that he acquired the passport fraudulently.
Asemie went to court where he lost the case at the Court of Appeal.
After Asemie lost his court battle to be granted citizenship, the Lesotho government revoked his passport and blocked his entry into Lesotho.
He is now stranded in South Africa.
Sources this week told the Lesotho Times that there are plans to have Asemie extradited to Lesotho so that he can be charged together with Sefali.
“The extradition process will start very soon,” said a source privy to the details of the case.
Last night police spokesperson, Masupha Masupha, said Asemie “has to tell how he acquired all the documents”.
Asemie has previously been linked to a human trafficking syndicate but has never been formally charged.
He denies the charges.
Last year this paper revealed that a highly confidential report alleged that Asemie was facilitating the trafficking of Ethiopian, Bangladeshi and Pakistan nationals into Lesotho.
The report was attached to a letter former government secretary Tlohang Sekhamane, now the Mokhotlong MP, wrote to the erstwhile deputy prime minister and home affairs minister Lesao Lehohla on March 12.
Sekhamane wrote the letter to explain why Asemie should not be granted citizenship.
His recommendation was based on the report of a task force commissioned to probe Asemie’s suspected criminal activities.
That report said Asemie would fetch Ethiopians, Bangladeshi and Pakistanis from Moshoeshoe I International Airport alleging that he was taking them to Meloding, a place he claimed was a guest house.
“It is now beyond the shadow of doubt that Mr Asemie’s source of income is facilitation of entry into Lesotho through Moshoeshoe I International Airport of Bangladeshi and Pakistani nationals and then assists them to proceed to the Republic of South Africa”.
“He obviously charges these people for the service and it is arguable that he is at the service of some powerful forces inside and outside Lesotho to facilitate illegal entry of these people to South Africa,” the report says.
The report described Asemie as a “man always on the move”.
One of the people interviewed by the task team was a National Security Services (NSS) official (name withheld) who is alleged to have said Asemie’s activities were “a threat not only to the security of Lesotho but to that of other countries as well”.
Asemie has vehemently denied allegations linking him to human trafficking.
He said he was being victimised because he had exposed some senior government officials who were allegedly involved in human trafficking.
He said the allegations against him were part of a ploy to silence him.