PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane has acknowledged receiving financial assistance from the controversial British businessman Arron Banks while he was in exile in South Africa.
Dr Thabane made the admission in BBC interview which was carried on the broadcaster’s website this week.
Mr Banks has come under serious criticism in his home country for allegedly bribing government officials in Lesotho to secure a diamond prospecting licence.
This week Communication, Science and Technology minister Thesele Maseribane was forced to defend himself after British media prodded him over more than M1 million that was transferred to his personal account held with a South African Bank in 2013 and 2014.
The BBC queried why the funds were transferred to Mr Maseribane’s personal account and he said he enjoyed a good friendship with Mr Banks.
Dr Thabane also opened up on his relationship with the controversial Mr Banks, saying the latter was a good friend who helped him with money to “buy food and soap” while he was in exile in South Africa.
Asked by the BBC if he was personally assisted by Mr Banks, Dr Thabane said: “Well, I think we were good friends”.
Asked what sort of assistance he received, Dr Thabane said: “Well, I think we needed to buy food”, he said with a chuckle and added: “Seriously and to buy some soap to wash.”
Dr Thabane first fled to South Africa after the 30 August 2014 attempted coup against his first government by the Lesotho Defence Force which was then under the command of Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli. The coup followed the Lt-Gen Kamoli’s refusal to make way for the late Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao who had been appointed by Dr Thabane to take over from Lt-Gen Kamoli as the army commander.
Dr Thabane fled the country again in 2015 and only returned in February 2017 to prepare for the 3 June 2017 national elections.
The BBC report also said Mr Banks also paid Mr Maseribane’s rentals while he was in exile in South Africa.
While both Mr Banks and Mr Maseribane confirm the transactions, they refute that the money was meant to influence the government into granting him a diamond prospecting licence in 2014. The BBC also said Mr Banks refuted Dr Thabane’s claims that he funded the latter.
Mr Banks is popularly known for bankrolling Britain’s exit from the European Union which has now been coined “Brexit”.
Previous reports have linked him with Mr Maseribane’s Basotho National party (BNP) whose campaigns he has previously funded to a reported £350 000 in 2012.
The BBC report indicates that while he was applying for a diamond prospecting licence in 2013 and 2014, Mr Banks transferred £65 000 (about M1 162 192) into Mr Maseribane’s personal bank account.
Part of the money, £16 000 a few weeks before his prospecting licence was granted.
At the time that the transactions were made, Mr Maseribane was Minister of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation.
Mr Banks transferred £16 000 to Mr Maseribane just weeks before his prospecting was granted in 2014.
The BBC also interviewed South African anti-corruption investigator, Paul O’Sullivan, who was quoted as saying that he would launch a probe into Mr Banks’ dealings.
“We will be carrying out further investigations of our own, what we call forensic investigations and then I will be opening a criminal docket,” Mr O’ Sullivan told the BBC.