FORMER Commissioner of Refugees in the Ministry of Home Affairs Francis Tlhopheho Sefali will spend 10 years behind bars if he fails to pay a M20 000 fine imposed by the Maseru Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday this week.
Sefali was slapped with the hefty sentence after being convicted of fraudulently facilitating the acquisition of a Lesotho passport for Ethiopian Eyob Asemie in 2003.
He first appeared before the Maseru Magistrate’s Court on 6 March 2013 accused of writing in the Ministry of Home Affairs records that Asemie had come to Lesotho in 2003, when he had arrived in 2005.
According to the charge sheet before the court, the purpose of back-dating Asemie’s arrival was to make it possible for him to acquire Lesotho’s citizenship so that he could qualify for a passport.
Sefali had pleaded not guilty but Chief Magistrate ‘Matankiso Nthunya found him guilty of fraud as charged.
Reading the sentence on Tuesday on behalf of Mrs Nthunya, Senior Resident Peter Murenzi said the sentence was imposed after considering all factors surrounding the case and Sefali’s personal circumstances.
“I have taken into account the fact that the accused is a first-time offender.
“I have also considered the fact that he is currently unemployed and a divorcee and he has two children to support. In other words, I have taken into consideration his personal circumstances,” he said.
However, the magistrate criticised Sefali for committing the crime when he was a high-ranking government official, who at some point, served as Deputy Principal Secretary for the Home Affairs ministry.
“He was ,at the time, the Deputy Principal Secretary and entrusted to act as chief accounting officer in the absence of the Principal Secretary,” he said.
But at the time he first appeared before the Magistrate’s Court on 6 March 2013, Sefali was Director of Administration at the Central Bank of Lesotho.
Mr Murenzi further remarked: “His conduct was completely unbecoming of an officer of such a high rank.
“However, because Asemie has since left the country and the accused left the Ministry of Home Affairs, I believe he will not ever be in a position to do what he did for anybody else in Asemie’s shoes.”
Meanwhile, the court agreed Sefali could pay his fine in installments as submitted during mitigation.