Thabane, wife freed of murder charges

Former Prime Minister Thabane and his wife 'Maesaiah in court early this year as key accused in Lipolelo's murder

Likeleli Majara

Maseru – Murder charges against the former Prime Minister Tom Thabane and his wife Maesaiah were withdrawn on Tuesday this week. Thabane and his new wife were suspected to have masterminded the shooting that left Thabane’s wife Lipolelo Thabane dead in June 2017, a few days before his inauguration. The estranged couple were at the time embroiled in a bitter divorce battle that meant Lipolelo would have been the official First lady, which Maesiah was not prepared to accept.

Both the former prime minister and the wife have been denying any involvement in the murder. The crown represented by Adv. Garreth Lapan told the court on Tuesday that the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) took a decision to withdraw the charges against the Thabanes as the prosecution could no longer locate a key witness in the case.

“We have been unable to trace an important witness in this matter and the DPP has decided to withdraw the charges against the accused,” said Adv. Garreth Lapan. High court judge Justice Molefi Makara explained that initially in the prosecution statement there appeared to be an implication that the crown had all the key witnesses who would provide relevant material evidence against the accused hence the prosecution had preferred the instant charges against accused.

Adv. Lapan however indicated that he was not part of the proceedings then but there was indeed the case made out against the accused and because of that charges were preferred. He said it is what happened subsequent to that which led to the decision of the DPP. Justice Makara asked Adv. Lapan if then in the meanwhile all those witnesses just disappeared but Adv. Lapan said not all the witnesses but there is one in particular who is a critical witness that they have been unable to trace.

Speaking on behalf of the defense, Adv. Salemane Phafane said the offence the couple faced is alleged to have taken place way back in 2017, more than five years ago, which is long enough for prosecution to have concluded the matter. He said that this case has attracted a lot of attention, interest and concern locally and internationally since the alleged victim was the wife of then the prime minister.

“February 2022 the accused persons were formally charged and when the then prime minister and his wife were brought to court on allegation of the murder of the then prime minister’s wife. The matter became even a matter of great concern and interest to the public and as such that placed a heavy burden on the shoulders of the accused. They have all these years carried a heavy yoke of the allegations that they have murdered the late Lipolelo Thabane,” Adv. Phafane said.

Adv. Phafane further highlighted that Accused Number 2 is now 83 heading for 84, who as a retired prime minister should be resting and enjoying his peace of mind and yet he has been dragged to court for two years only for the crown to say its house is not in order. He also explained that when the matter was dragging on and on in the magistrate court, the Accused Number 1, Maesiah was increasingly becoming anxious and wanted to see the finality of the matter so much that as of March 2020 the accused pressed the prosecution to proceed with the matter or withdraw but the crown did neither.

He said this culminated in the formal application staged before the magistrate for the charges to be dismissed in terms of section 3(2) of the speedy trial Act read with section 12(1) of the Constitution.

Moreover, Adv. Phafane said the crown had never been ready to present the witnesses after all these years, adding that the law requires that one be tried within a reasonable time. He said that they called on the crown to withdraw the charges two years ago but they refused, they then asked them to proceed with the case but they could not proceed, now the matter is set-down before the court and they still can not proceed. Judge Makara said it seemed the crown had never from the onset had solid basis for having confronted the accused persons and charging them.

Adv. Phafane said the inevitable conclusion is that the crown never had a case against the person in the first place but were only playing for media. He said, among other setbacks, this case forced the accused to leave office before end of term. Attorney Qhalehang Letsika added that even the bail for Maesaiah was opposed bitterly and she was accused of all sorts of things. One of the worst things about the case is that the family was also brought into it, Letsika said, adding in all his years of practice he had never seen such a strange way of dealing with a criminal matter.

Letsika further stated that Thabane was accused of exercising this powers against public servants, senior public officers, police officers, senior police officers simply because he was running away from the fact that he had killed his wife. He said this narrative was pushed by the commissioner of police. High court judge Justice Molefi Makara accepted the crown’s motion to withdraw the murder charges against the accused persons.

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