Three Ministers, 15 Soldiers Up For Treason

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…charges arise from the 30 August 2014 attempted coup

Pascalinah Kabi

THREE cabinet ministers in Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s first government and high ranking former army officers will soon be arraigned before the courts for treason over the 30 August 2014 attempted coup.

The development comes after a recent government report to Southern African Development Community (SADC) heads of state indicating that investigations into the 2014 attempted coup against Dr Thabane’s first government were almost complete and arrests would soon be made.

The government said in that report that treason charges would be preferred on the suspects who include some soldiers who are already in custody facing other charges.

“The investigation into the treason case where radio stations were closed and the State House invaded by the army, where the Right Honourable Prime Minister Dr Thabane narrowly escaped and skipped the country, is almost complete,” the government stated.

“It is pending the arrest of the suspects and joining others who are already in the Maseru Central Correctional institution awaiting trial for various other charges who will also be formally charged before courts of law for treason,” the government said in its report.

Former army commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli is currently in custody at the Maximum Security Prison awaiting a murder trial in connection with the 30 August 2014 killing of Police Sub-Inspector, Mokheseng Ramahloko. He also faces a plethora of other attempted murder charges.

Sub-Inspector Ramahloko was shot and killed by soldiers during the 2014 attempted coup at the police headquarters in Maseru. The soldiers who allegedly acted on the instructions of the then army commander, Lt-Gen Kamoli, also raided several other police stations in Maseru and seized an assortment of weapons.

The Lesotho Times obtained a confidential report prepared by a leading law firm commissioned by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to help in formulating the charges to be preferred against all the culprits involved in the 30 August 2014 attempted coup.

The report shows that at least three cabinet ministers in the first Thabane coalition, which ruled from 2012 to 2015, and 15 Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) officers will face a plethora of charges including treason for their part in the 30 August 2014 events. The Lesotho Times is nonetheless withholding publishing their names for professional reasons.

The charges will range from high treason, kidnapping, attempted murder to unlawful damage to property.

The DPP consulted the leading law firm for a legal opinion on the August 2014 events. The DPP’s office requested the law firm to state whether or not there were any prosecutable offences arising from the army’s raids on various police stations which set off a chain of events culminating in Dr Thabane’s flight to South Africa that year. Dr Thabane only returned to Lesotho under heavy South African police guard.

The DPP had also asked the law firm to state the offences committed as well as to identify the individuals and/ or entities that were criminally culpable for the offences so identified.

The firm was requested to prepare and tabulate a list of charges that could be preferred against the suspects.

The law firm has since submitted its report to the DPP’s office. The report advises that three former ministers and 15 soldiers be charged with treason, contravention of internal security regulations, murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault kidnapping or unlawful detention, robbery and malicious or unlawful damage to property, among others.

The three former ministers, according to the law firm’s report,  “met with the army officers and planned and executed the operation of 29-30 August 2014”.

“The salient facts that led to the events of 30 August 2014 was the removal of the then army commander, Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli on 29 August 2014 by the then Prime Minister Thabane and appointment of the late Lt-Gen Maaparankoe Mahao as the commander.

“This move by Dr Thabane became unpopular and was not well received by Lt-Gen Kamoli and most of the army command as well as some coalition partners in government, in particular, members of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD).

“In the evening of 29 August 2014, the removed army commander Lt-Gen Kamoli called an urgent meeting of senior members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) at Makoanyane Barracks (in Maseru),” the law firm chronicled.

“It was in this meeting that Lt-Gen Kamoli informed the senior LDF members that he had received intelligence that the police were going to hand over guns to some members of the All Basotho Convention (ABC) which they will use to shoot and kill members of the LCD on 1 September 2014 during the LCD’s political rally to protest the prorogation of parliament.

“Lt-Gen Kamoli said the army had to intervene and stop the police from handing over guns to the ABC. This aspect is highly preposterous and the question of whether indeed the police were going to hand over guns to the ABC is without merit. There was more to this operation than what was suggested by Lt-Gen Kamoli and his LDF command,” the law firm states.

The law firm further states that Lt-Gen Kamoli’s “so-called intelligence” which was the basis of the authorisation to conduct the army operation on 29-30 August 2014 was unfounded, unlawful and malicious in all material aspects.

“Firstly, there was no supporting evidence or any evidence at all, to suggest that indeed there was ‘intelligence’ that members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) were going to hand over guns to ABC members to shoot and kill members of the LCD.

“The only tangible evidence is that LCD members were pained that parliament was prorogued at the time when there was a motion of no confidence against Dr Thabane. Secondly, (three army officers – names withheld) met with (three former cabinet ministers – names withheld) to plan the whole operation and justify it to the nation,” the law firm states.

The firm said it was clear that the three former ministers and the LDF command were bent on coercing the government to accept the demands of the opposition parties who desired to oust Dr Thabane from office.

“Another factor that makes the operation unlawful is the fact that during the day of the 29th of August 2014, Lt-Gen Mahao was appointed the new commander of the LDF by Dr Thabane acting in accordance with Section 145 (4) of the constitution of 1999. This means Lt-Gen Kamoli had been removed as commander of LDF and was no longer occupying the office of the commander of the LDF in the evening of 29 August 2014.”

Effectively, when Rtd Lt-Gen Kamoli called an urgent meeting of the senior officials of the LDF, where he authorised the operation, all decisions made by him which include the authorisation of the operation were null and void from the beginning because he could not have authorised such an operation as he was no longer commander of the LDF at the time, the law firm states.  Based on available evidence, it can be reasonably concluded that there had been a conspiracy between the three former ministers and the LDF command to topple Dr Thabane.

“In order to disguise and hide behind their unlawful actions, some or all of the persons committed or knowingly with intention, failed to prevent or report treasonable acts of 29 to 30 August 2014.

“When examining closely the incidents of 29 to 30 August 2014, all the requirements of high treason as laid down in Rex v Mofelehetsi Moerane & Others 1974/75 L.L.R. at 212 and Rex v Makalo Moletsane & Others which is reported in the same volume at page 316 were met.”

The court which handled those cases held that the elements of high treason were an overt act committed with, hostile intent by, a person owing allegiance to the state. All persons who participated in the events of  August 2014 are citizens of Lesotho who owe allegiance to the Kingdom of Lesotho….They acted with intention to overthrow the government or coerce it by force.

“What makes matters worse is that some of the persons who participated in the conspiracy to commit the offense of treason as contemplated under Section 74 were cabinet ministers while others were high ranking LDF officials who were expected to respect and uphold the constitution of Lesotho,” the law firm observes.

“Upon perusal of the docket, there are other persons who appear to have participated in the commission of treasonable acts of 29-30 August 2014. Their degree of participation in the commission of the offence is minimal and they should be made accomplice witnesses in accordance with Section 236 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act No.9 of 1981.”

“Therefore…. two of the senior army officers and two of their juniors should be made state witnesses as ‘no court shall convict a person of treason except upon the evidence of two witnesses…to each act’.”

The implicated LDF officers will also be charged with the murder of Sub Inspector Ramahloko.

The firm also advised that the suspects be charged with the attempted murder of some police officers who were shot at different police stations by the members of the LDF on the night of 29 August 2014.

The Mabote Special Support Unit Office (SSU) docket indicated that five police offices – “Lance Corporals Sebata, Moshesha, Ramahlele and Private Constables Mofokeng, Mothibeli were attacked in their office and shot at by LDF members and that in the process the two Private Constables were both injured by the gunshots”.

The docket further says that at Mabote Police Station, Sub-Inspectors Seutloali and Mahlatsi, Private Constables Bokopane, Likhama and woman Police Constable Matjeka were attacked with firearms and were shot at, kidnapped and assaulted by members of the LDF.

“The same happened at Pitso Ground Police Station where Sergeant ‘Musa, woman Police Constable Phatsisi, Police Constables Mohapi, Lefoka and Penane were attacked with firearms and shot at by members of the LDF who held them hostage and assaulted them.

“At Maseru Central Charge Office, Sub Inspector Joele, Inspector Moqhetsooa, Private Constables Ratsoene, Mohloki, Teba-Teba and Khanane were attacked and assaulted by members of the LDF. At Police Headquarters Sub Inspector Ramahloko was shot dead while other officers namely Lance Sergeant Thamae, Police Constables Litulo, Hlalane, Mahanetsa, Nose and Sergeant Mohlomi were assaulted and held hostage.”

Another charge to be preferred is that of aggravated assault arising from the fact that all police officers who were on duty at the five police stations in Maseru had been severely assault by LDF members.

A further charge is that of kidnapping or unlawful detention.

According to the law firm, the police officers and a civilian who were held hostage at Pitso Ground until their release the following morning were victims of the offence of unlawful detention.

The accused will also face malicious or unlawful damage to property for allegedly damaging the home of Lt-Gen Mahao and property belonging to the police, which included motor vehicles and furniture.

The law firm also wants the accused to be charged with robbery for allegedly confiscating property which included firearms and motor vehicle keys from the police. All that property was in the lawful possession of the LMPS and was seized illegally, the firm states, on the false pretext that police weapons were due to be handed over to kill LCD supporters.

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