Intrigue, labyrinth of plots, trials within a trial: Will courts finally wrap up Mahao murder case?



MASERU – The long running trial of the former army commander Tlali Kamoli and his colleagues over the murder of Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao has finally taken shape as the 14th crown witness took the throughout the week. Events leading up to the June 25, 2015 murder of Mahao are complex and intertwined. However, not all the events related by one of the key witnesses, former Police Commissioner Khothaso Ts’ooana, were allowed deemed relevant to the case since there is also a related but separate case pending in courts.

The court sustained an objection that the witness, Ts’ooana, can only speak about events related to the killing of Mahao and those that happened around the time of the killing as provided for by the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act. Defence lawyers had objected to Ts’ooana’s narration of the attacks at his house and the then fiancée to former Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane, Liabiloe Ramoholi after telling the court that he had heard through intelligence reports that the Lieutananat Kamoli was planning the attacks.

Advocate Kabelo Letuka said such information was irrelevant to the charge being investigated by the court and that it was about events that happened between December 2013 and January 2014 while the crime before court was committed in 2015. “The time factor is important and we know that in terms of the law, things that happened three months before the commission of the crime and three months after are irrelevant,” Letuka said.

He cited section 154 (2) of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act which states that “if any particular day or period is alleged in any charge as the day or period during which any act or offence was committed, proof that the act or offence was committed on any other day or time not more than three months before or after the day or period laid down therein shall be taken to support such allegation if time be not of the essence of the offence.”

The section further states that if any particular day or period is alleged in any charge as the day or period during which any act or offence was committed, proof may be given that the act or offence was committed on a day or time more than three months before or after the day or period stated in the charge, unless it is made to appear to the court before which the trial is being that the accused is likely to be prejudiced thereby in his defence upon merits.

Attorney Qhalehang Letsika argued that the intelligence reports Ts’ooana was alluding to would prejudice the accused persons and thereby ought not to be accepted by the court. He also reiterated Letuka’s submission saying Ts’ooana’s piece of testimony is way out of the time prescribed by the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act.  On top of that, Attorney Letsika said intelligence reports are hearsay evidence because they are from unknown sources and therefore inadmissible. “The accused persons are not going to be able to cross examine that information because they will be told its hearsay,” Attorney Letsika, adding “that hearsay evidence will be tried in another matter, it does not answer what His Lordship is asked to determine here.”

Justice Hungwe then ordered that the evidence Ts’ooana sought to give would be narrated “in another court as I understand that court is seized with the matter. Let us stick to events of this case.” Ts’ooana testified that when a government gazette was published on August 29, 2014 announcing Lieutenant General Mahao as the commander, Ts’ooana says he received intelligence reports that Lieutanant General Kamoli was planning to attack Mahao.

Indeed Mahao’s home was attacked on August 30 wherein his house dog and one of the police officers guarding the home were shot. The suspects, he said, turned out to be LDF members. On the fateful day, Kamoli allegedly attempted a coup to topple the then Prime Minister Thabane’s government. It is alleged that he was unhappy with his removal to give way to Mahao’s appointment as commander.

In the same incident, Kamoli and four other soldiers including Minister Selibe Mochoboroane and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) Mothetjoa Metsing have been charged in relation to that coup.  LDF members attacked the police headquarters, the Maseru Central Charge Office and Mabote Police Station in what was seen as part of an attempted coup. Members of the police Special Operations Unit (SOU) were allegedly assaulted by soldiers demanding access to certain dockets. 

One Sub-inspector Mokheseng Ramahloko was assaulted and then shot dead. Earlier in the year, on January 27, 2014 the houses of Ramoholi (now Maessiah Thabane) and that of a neighbor were bombed along with Ts’ooana’s house in Ha Abia which was also attacked on the same night.  Police were reported at the time as having said that unexploded bombs found at the scene bore the serial numbers of munitions supplied to the LDF by a South African manufacturer.  

Kamoli eventually made his way back into the LDF after the then Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili re-appointed him and fired Lieutenant Mahao. From that point it is alleged that Kamoli embarked on a revenge mission to pursue all the people who never supported him resulting in Prime Minister Thabane fleeing the country.

On June 25, 2015, Mahao was killed in what the army said was an attempt to arrest him.  They claimed that Mahao was resisting arrest so they had opened fire on him. 

He was shot three times with an AK47 rifle Southern African Development Community (SADC) then facilitated a commission of inquiry to investigate circumstances surrounding his death and to identify possible culprits. The commission found that the army’s claim that Mahao resisted arrest was improbable given the scientific evidence. Instead, it found that excessive force was used. The commission recommended that those implicated in Mahao’s murder and other related killings and violations be prosecuted using some of the best international standards.

Captains Litekanyo Nyakane, Haleeo Makara, Seargents Lekhooa Moepi, Motsamai Fako, Corporals Marasi ‘Moleli, Mots’oane Machai, Mohlalefi Seitlheko, Ts’itso Ramoholi and Lieutanant Tlali Kamoli were therefore charged with Mahao’s murder.

The trial has experienced several setbacks since it was first brought to court five years. Ts’oana is the 14th witness and is yet to conclude his evidence. The accused persons have been denied bail on several occasions with the most recent bail dismissed last week.  Justice Hungwe ruled that there were no exceptional circumstances warranting their release as the accused had alleged.

The accused have also failed in their attempts to have Justice Hungwe recuse himself from the trial.Sergeant Motsamai Fako, Corporal Mots`oane Machai and Lance Corporal Ts`itso Ramoholi at some point sought Justice Hungwe’s recusal after alleging bias on the part of the judge.

They had taken exception with the judge’s referral to them as a “gang”. “Therefore if the court believes the version set out in the earlier petition which was later withdrawn, it will be clear that by his own admission he was part of the gang or unit of military officers who took down the deceased,” Judge Hungwe wrote in one judgment. By referring to them as a “gang” the soldiers said Justice Hungwe has already made up his mind that they are guilty.

They argued that the conclusion and classification of an army operation as a “gang” suggests that the Judge had already made a finding that they were acting improperly… Their allegations were, however, dismissed by both the High Court and the Court of Appeal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *