Mystery fire guts traffic office

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MASERU — Computers containing information on cars registered in Maseru and Leribe were destroyed after fire gutted down an office at the traffic department last Saturday morning.

A National Transport Information System server, computers, Integrated Financial Management System computers and a printer were destroyed.

Department officials told the Lesotho Times that the destroyed property could be worth over M200 000.

The property was in an office on the ground floor next to the service counters.  

Police suspect that the fire could have been started by an employee who wanted to destroy information that police were using to investigate a syndicate that was allegedly illegally registering stolen cars.

Police believe the suspects broke into the office through the window and started the fire.

For the past six months the police have been on the trail of a syndicate that they suspect could have helped people to illegally register hundreds of stolen vehicles.

Some initial headway had been made in the investigations and police had impounded some of the fraudulently registered vehicles.

On Monday the police arrested four suspects in connection with the arson attack.

Three of the suspects who included Moleboheng ‘Neko, an accountant working in the car registry division of the department, appeared in court on Tuesday.

The other two suspects — Palesa Thulo and Rathabile Thamae — are said to be friends with ‘Neko.

Thulo is working at Masutsa Catering while Thamae is a taxi driver.

Charged with arson, the three were released on M500 bail each. 

The fourth suspect did not appear in court and neither was he identified in the court papers.

Work at the car registration division has come to a halt as a result of the fire.

By Monday morning traffic department officials were telling people who wanted to either register their vehicles or renew their registrations to come back later in the week.

Deputy traffic commissioner, Tohlang Sello, said the NTIS server which was destroyed contained information for cars registered in Maseru and Leribe districts.

“We are not sure whether the data is lost because our control room is in South Africa. The system is connected in South Africa,” Sello said.

“We are still investigating whether we can retrieve data from our back-up system or not but the machines are damaged,” he said.

Sello said work in the car registry office will only resume today.

He however warned that the process will be slow because they would have to verify the information manually.

“The cars will be registered manually until such time when our electronic machines will be in service.”

He said on average the department in Maseru registers 50 vehicles per day.

Police spokesperson Masupha Masupha said when police attended the fire scene on Saturday morning they found two bottles that they suspect contained the petrol which was used to start the fire.

In October, a Sekamaneng-based taxi owner, Morai Mosoaboli, was charged with theft and unlawful possession of blue cards which are used to register vehicles.

Mosoaboli had allegedly turned his Sekamaneng home into a mini-car registration office.

His clients included car thieves who used the documents to register stolen vehicles in Lesotho as well as some taxi owners who wanted operating permits.

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