THE Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) has been slapped with an M11 million lawsuit by the director of Hippo Transport, Mohopoli Isaac Monokoane. Mr Monokoane alleges that he was defamed and his company suffered financial losses after the DCEO maliciously leaked a letter it wrote to him in July this year.
Mr Monokoane wants M11 million in damages which has been broken down as M10 million for loss of business and M1 million for the public ridicule he suffered as a result of the DCEO’s “unlawful and wrongful” leakage of the confidential letter. The letter in question was written by the DCEO to him requesting that he make submissions in relation to a 2015 tender that Hippo Transport was awarded by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.
The DCEO said it needed the information as part of its investigations into suspected corruption in the procurement of goods and services by the Ministry of Agriculture in 2015.
Hippo Transport’s core business is the provision of transport solutions and according to its website, it is one of the largest transport companies in Lesotho with a fleet of 92 heavy duty trucks and 21 small trucks.
It also has interests in plant hire, property, tourism and brick manufacturing.
On the 10th of July this year, the DCEO wrote to Mr Monokoane requesting him to make a full disclosure of all his assets in and outside Lesotho as well as his sources of income within 21 days.
Among other things, the DCEO demanded his bank account details including the name of the bank, the year in which the account was opened, the opening balance, the current balance and any offshore accounts.
In terms of motor vehicles and other movable properties, Mr Monokoa was requested to furnish the DCEO with the registration numbers, engine and vehicle identification numbers. The DCEO also wanted information relating to when the vehicles and movable properties were acquired and how much Hippo Transport paid for them.
Mr Monokoane scribbled a handwritten response on 16 July informing the DCEO that he did not understand English and asked the anti-corruption body to write to him in Sesotho.
A week later, Mr Monokoane’s response was leaked on social media and he alleges that the leakage resulted in him being subjected to public ridicule. He further alleges that the leakage cost him at least M10 million in lost earnings.
Mr Monokoane, through his legal firm Phoofolo Associates Inc., has since filed a lawsuit accusing the DCEO of leaking the letter and he wants to be compensated for the ‘damages’ to his personal and professional reputation.
“This action (lawsuit) is based on the wrongful and unlawful leakage of a confidential letter which was addressed to the 2nd plaintiff (Mr Monokoane) in respect of a tender which the 1st plaintiff (Hippo Transport) was awarded by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security in 2015,” Mr Monokoane states in his court papers which were filed on 13 August 2018.
“The Defendant (DCEO), as a sensitive and or delicate investigative institution of corruption and economic offences, was duty bound to preserve secrecy of all information which came to the custody and or knowledge of its agents. The plaintiffs specifically plead that notwithstanding the statutory obligation of the defendant, the letter was leaked and eventually displayed on social media and that publication subjected both plaintiffs to ridicule. The confidential contents of the letter were consequently subjected to public display and scrutiny contrary to the Prevention of Corruption and Economic Offences Act No 5 of 1999.
“The 1st plaintiff specifically pleads that as a result of the defendant’s utter breach of the law, the business of the company was severely compromised leading to significant losses in business and the transactional portfolio of the company was severely compromised as a result thereof.”
Mr Monokoane said the leaking the confidential letter was both wrongful and unlawful and that it was a malicious endeavour on the part of the DCEO who aimed at compromising the business interests and reputation of Hippo Transport.
He said the alleged actions by the DCEO subjected him to public ridicule and demeaning remarks on social media and that adversely tainted his name and good stead and he was therefore aggrieved.
“The 2nd plaintiff further pleads that the leakage of the confidential letter was and remains a malicious endeavour aimed at lowering him in esteem and for that reason he is compromised in the business circles and seen as a person who does not abide by the laws of the land in spite of the fact that no criminal charges have been laid against him.
“The said wrongful, unlawful and or utter breach of the law by the defendant and or its authorised agents occasioned substantial commercial damages to the 1st plaintiff and that adversely affected the company’s reputation and business dealings which attracted loss of business and prospective contracts to the tune of M10 000 000. The mentioned monies could have been secured through the business dealings of 1st plaintiff if it was not for the wrongful and or unlawful acts of the defendant through its agents.
“On the same note, the said wrongful, unlawful and or utter breach of the law by the defendant and or its authorised necessitated and attracted damages to the tune of M1 000 000 owing to the damage caused to the personal reputation of the 2nd plaintiff. The damage could have been avoided if it was not for the wrongful and or unlawful acts of the defendant through its agents,” Mr Monokoane said.
He said he was forced to approach the courts after the DCEO refused to pay the damages as communicated in a letter of demand to the anti-graft body on 27 July this year.