Humiliated lawyer narrates MKM ordeal

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…as MKM properties go under the hammer in Ladybrand

Lekhetho Ntsukunyane

HUMILIATED before his friends and colleagues, prominent Maseru-based lawyer, Stefan Carl Buys, can still not come to terms with the abuse he suffered at Lesotho Sun Hotel on Monday.

Mr Buys, of Du Preez Liebetrau and Co, was assaulted in broad daylight by an irate mob and forced to display a placard denouncing the ongoing public auction of MKM properties belonging to local businessman Simon Thebe-ea-Khale in one of the most shocking racially-driven furies ever witnessed in modern-day Lesotho.

Shortly after the whipping, during which he was also forced to crawl around the hotel parking lot begging for his life and forgiveness, photos of the chastened lawyer were uploaded on the internet, completing the humiliation of the lawyer the mob was accusing of being behind the auction.

The angry mob — which later identified itself as MKM workers and concerned Basotho creditors and investors whose funds were frozen when the Central Bank of Lesotho (CBL) shut down the company in 2007 for allegedly operating banking and insurance businesses in violation of the Financial Institution Act 1999 and Insurance Act 1976 before the courts ruled the business should be liquidated because it was insolvent — had first stormed the hotel’s Convention Centre, disrupting the auction in the process and insulting every white person in the room.

The mob then went for Mr Buys, who was coordinating the sale, and pulled him out of the auction venue before the savage beating, mocking and insults began, while shocked bystanders and some police officers watched helplessly.

The angry group accused the lawyer and “all other white people here, including these Indians and Chinese” of “doing as you please in our country”.

One of the angry protestors yelled, as he hit the stumbling Mr Buys at the back of the head: “You think you are very clever coming to our country and selling MKM buildings so that you can chow Basotho monies and go back to your countries. MKM belongs to Basotho. It is a Mosotho-owned empire and you white people think you can just come and steal our monies and go to South Africa. No. You have now come to a no-go area. Enough is enough; we will not have this in our country.”

Others yelled unprintable insults as they smashed tables and chairs inside the auction room, before turning their attention on the hapless Mr Buys.

After dragging the lawyer outside the hall, the mob forced him to carry a placard which read: “We, members of the MKM Burial Society, declare this public auction unlawful and must stop with immediate effect. We say so!”

However, a Good Samaritan later came to Mr Buys’ rescue, but had to threaten the mob with a pistol to stay clear of his vehicle before whisking the shaken lawyer away to the safety of the hotel.

Until yesterday, the police had not made any arrests regarding the assault.

Police spokesperson, Thato Ramarikhoane, told the Lesotho Times: “There were no arrests made because Mr Buys has not yet formally lodged a case with the police following the incident.

“We know about the incident because a few police officers who were there called Maseru Central Charge Office for reinforcements.

“In fact, Mr Buys was ferried from Lesotho Sun to Maseru Border Post by officers from  Maseru Central Police Station. The initial intention was to take him to the police station so he could open an assault case, but he insisted that he should be ferried straight to the border as he now feared for his life and wanted to immediately leave the country for South Africa.

“He told the police that he would only come back when the situation had returned to normal. And up to now, Mr Buys has not come to open the case. The police cannot open a case of this kind on their own; the victim has to come and make a statement.”

Meanwhile, Mr Buys yesterday told the Lesotho Times in an exclusive interview that he was still trying to come to terms with what happened to him on Monday before deciding on his next move.

He said: “We are currently working on evidence to put before the police so that charges are laid against these people who assaulted me on Monday. What happened to me was pure humiliation and should not happen to anyone.

“We had people from South Africa attending the auction and those people were also insulted and called names for no apparent reason. They were told that they were Boers and should leave Lesotho. I have never seen such humiliation in my entire life and the experience left me shaken.

“Although some of the people at the auction were South Africans, they have been running businesses in Lesotho for over 30 years, so they are part of this country. I am in Maseru as we speak because I just arrived today from South Africa where I fled following Monday’s incident. But it is still dangerous for me to be walking around Maseru.”

According to Mr Buys, he was still receiving threats warning him to stop the auction. One of the liquidators, Chavonnes Cooper, had also received threats concerning the auction, he added.

“I was walking in Maseru today, when one young man arrogantly held a newspaper with my picture to my face and said, ‘so this is you’ and continued to make me a laughing stock of the whole country.

“I have also received threats on my phone, telling me that what was done to me on Monday was nothing compared to what would happen should the auction continue.

“The other liquidator, Mr Cooper, also informed me that he received a text massage on his phone that he should keep his eyes on his backside. We cannot continue to live with these kinds of threats. I give you my word that we are currently working on this matter and those involved will be brought to book.”

Mr Buys confirmed he was ferried to the border by the police as he fled the angry mob on Monday.

“A certain police superintended has since called to ask if I am going to lay charges. I told him yes, but did not say when.”

Asked what would happen regarding the auction, Mr Buys told the Lesotho Times the sale continued the same day in Ladybrand, South Africa.

Although he could not confirm the winning bids by name, the Lesotho Times has been reliably informed that the Agric Bank Building was auctioned for M33 million to a local company, Hippo Transport.

National Motors – one of the MKM buildings located in the Railway Station Industrial Area – was sold to Executive Transport for M17 million, while MKM Insurance Headquarters – also in the Railway Station Industrial Area – went for M2 million to a certain businessperson of Indian origin.

Two other MKM buildings, which are still under construction and are in the Railway Station Industrial Area, went for M1.8 million and M1.1 million.

The massive office complex between Sparrows and Engen Garage in the Central Business District, was withdrawn from the auction at the eleventh hour “because of some complications concerning its maintenance,” Mr Buys added.

Asked what would happen to the estimated 400 000 people who lost their monies when MKM was shut down by the CBL, Mr Buys said: “MKM’s liquidation cannot be treated as if it is special from the rest of other companies which have also been liquidated.

“Our job, as liquidators, is not necessarily to give creditors the money they put into MKM. We only do the administration part of liquidating the company. That is to say we are paid  administration fees determined by the courts of law.

“For instance, if we manage to collect M100 million from selling the MKM properties, and the administration fees for the liquidators come to M20 million, we will have what is called a free residual amount of M80 million, which could be used to pay back the creditors.

“Remember all the money collected during the liquidation does not go to the liquidators. It is put into a trust account. Again, when talking about the MKM creditors, there are what we call winners and losers.

“Winners are those people who invested their money and benefitted from the scheme, and losers are those who could not benefit at all from that pyramid scheme.

“By losers, we mean people who were robbed of their money by MKM in order to pay others, the winners. Based on laws guiding liquidation processes, we are going to sue the winners so that we regain those monies they got in extra.”

Mr Buys further told the Lesotho Times that the “winners” in the MKM scheme had been identified and would soon be hunted down and forced to pay back the money.

“These so-called winners have to pay back the extra monies they got from the scheme, so that we increase the free residual amount.

“On the other hand, the losers would have to have sufficient proof that indeed they were robbed by MKM and they will all get paid from the free residual account.”

Meanwhile, ccontroversy over the MKM auction began last Friday when the Commercial Court granted an interim order blocking the sale of the company’s six commercial properties located in Maseru, only to cancel the order two hours later after a counter-application by South Africa-based liquidators, Chavonnes Cooper and Daan Roberts.

Two local lawyers, Advocate Makhetha Motšoari and Advocate Ranale Thoahlane, representing ten creditors and investors in the MKM, had filed an urgent application before the Commercial Court, seeking to stop the auction.

The ten applicants are Rankalimeng Mokhele, ’Malebohang Mareka, ’Matlotliso Liboti, Motlalehi Ntala, Matšeliso Selongoana, ’Malebohang Molete, ’Mamotsapi Phafoli, ’Mamotlatsi Raphuthing, ’Mamatiti Pakela and Sekhohola Thamae.

The application was granted by Justice Semapo Peete “returnable on the 24th of November 2014, and asking the Respondents(Chavonnes Cooper, Daan Roberts, Master of the High Court and Attorney General) to show cause, if any, why the sale of MKM in an auction on the 17th of November 2014 shall not be stayed pending the final determination of the application; calling of a creditors’ meeting for the purposes of proving their claims, and calling of a contributors’ meeting for purposes envisaged in Section 186 (1) (b) of the Companies Act 25 of 1967 prior to any sale of the properties of the companies in liquidation.”

However, no sooner had Justice Peete issued the interim order than the liquidators, represented by Webber Newdigate’s Advocate Edeling, approached the same judge with a counter-application.

Justice Peete then set aside the interim order, noting in his ruling: “Having heard Mr Edeling when he submitted that the order granted by this court at 14:45pm on 14 November 2014 be set aside and rescinded upon the following grounds: No proper 24-hour notice was made in accordance with Practice Directive No.1 of 2011 (by former Chief Justice Mahapela Lehohla dated 4 November 2011. This directive was circulated widely through Lesotho LII (Legal Information Institute) website to all practitioners.

‘That his attorneys, Webber Newdigate, on 13 November 2014 brought to the attention of the registrars this Practice Directive. Erroneously, this letter was not timeously circulated to judges – especially the judge on call.

‘The urgent application should have been brought before the Commercial Court unless the Chief Justice had designated another High Court judge. None of the above was complied with and the court order was granted erroneously and in the absence of the respondents (liquidators).

“In terms of Rule 45 (1) (a) of the High Court Rules of 1980, the order granted by this court at 14:45pm on 14 November 2014 is set aside and rescinded. The court agrees with Mr Edeling’s submissions. Mr Edeling undertakes that the auction will proceed as arranged and advertised and the respondents undertake not to confirm any offer received at the auction for a period of 14 days from 17 November 2014 in order to afford the applicants an opportunity to seek relief of interdict in the Commercial Court after having given the 24-hour notice to the respondents.”

Meanwhile, Advocate Motšoari yesterday told the Lesotho Times the case was set to proceed before the Commercial Court on Wednesday next week, with Advocate Sakoane Sakoane  presiding.

Mr Buys, on the other hand, told the Lesotho Times although the properties were sold, they cannot be confirmed yet as per Judge Peete’s court order issued last Friday.

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