POLICE Commissioner Holomo Molibeli says the real reason for the weekend deployment of heavily armed soldiers around Maseru was to effect his arrest and removal to pave way for his replacement by a pliant officer who would save Prime Minister Thomas Thabane from being prosecuted for the June 2017 murder of his ex-wife, Lipolelo Thabane.
Commissioner Molibeli said the move was also intended to ultimately save Police and Public Safety Minister Lehlohonolo Moramotse from arrest and prosecution for violating lockdown regulations forbidding the purchase of alcohol.
The top cop makes the claims in his latest High Court application to stop the premier from suspending him and appointing Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Sera Makharilele to act in his place. High Court Judge Semapo Peete granted an interim order barring Mr Thabane from suspending Commissioner Molibeli until his main application to stop his suspension has been finalised. The application will be heard on 27 April 2020.
Justice Peete’s Sunday order reinforced a similar one he had granted on Friday to stop Mr Thabane from suspending the police chief.
The judge granted the interim order at his Maseru West home after hearing submissions from Commissioner Molibeli’s lawyer Advocate Tekane Maqakachane and Mr Thabane’s lawyer, Attorney Qhalehang Letsika.
“Having perused papers filed on record and having heard submissions from both counsels…the status quo (of Commissioner Molibeli remaining in office) should be maintained,” Justice Peete ruled.
Mr Thabane, the Police Authority (represented by Mr Moramotse), the Attorney General and DCP Makharilele are the first to fourth respondents respectively.
The LDF deployed heavily after Dr Thabane had called the army to protect him from enemies destabilising his government. The army later issued a statement downplaying its heavy deployment saying this had only been done as a “show of force” to assure the population that it was ready to maintain law and order during the lockdown aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
But in his court papers, Commissioner Molibeli dismisses as a ruse claims that the deployment happened to ensure compliance with the lockdown. The real reason was to achieve his arrest and replacement with a pliant police chief who would then shield Dr Thabane from prosecution for the June 2017 murder of his ex-wife Lipolelo Thabane.
Commissioner Molibeli says the army deployment was unnecessary because the police, army and intelligence service had been working closely together to monitor citizens’ compliance with the lockdown. There hadn’t been any signs of hostility from the public.
“The police service, the military and the National Security Service (NSS) have… been supervising public compliance with Covid-19 lockdown regulations. Constant reports are continuously made by the police, the military and the NSS to the government on the state of compliance with the lockdown regulations. Neither the police, the NSS or the military have made any observations or reports of the nature alluded to by the first respondent (Mr Thabane) on tensions or riots which necessitate the invocation of the measures adopted by the first respondent in his speech…
“It is clear that the measures adopted by the first respondent on 18 April 2020 were therefore context-specific and were targeted solely to me as the person who launched an application before the courts on 16 April 2020 against my intended suspension and the courts have made an order against the first respondent. It is the very order which is alleged I am hiding behind to soil the dignity of the government, the first and the second respondent (Mr Moramotse) whom I had occasion to investigate on allegations of criminal conduct on their part…
“I aver that the first respondent (Mr Thabane’s) speech (on the Saturday deployment of the army) was a tactful and strategic ploy to camouflage the real intentions of the first and second respondents to effectuate my unlawful and illegal suspension from the office of the commissioner of police and to have me arrested and detained so as to give way for the fourth respondent (DCP Makharilele) (or any other member of the Police Service) being appointed to act, with the consequence that all investigations and prosecutions against first respondent, the First Lady (‘Maesaiah Thabane), second respondent (Mr Moramotse) are thwarted,” Commissioner Molibeli states in his 19 April 2020 affidavit.
Since the beginning of the year, Mr Thabane’s has launched several albeit unsuccessful bids to oust Commissioner Molibeli. On 10 March 2020, High Court Judge Molefi Makara nullified Mr Thabane’s move to replace Commissioner Molibeli with Assistant Commissioner of Police Janki Hlaahla.
Barely a month later, Mr Thabane launched another bid to get rid of Commissioner Molibeli. He wrote to the top cop on 15 April 2020 asking him to “show cause” why he should not suspend him to facilitate investigations after a case of perjury was filed against him by one of his subordinates.
Mr Thabane said it was alleged that Commissioner Molibeli committed perjury when he said that he was transferring one of his subordinates from Maseru to Qacha’s Nek because there was only one senior officer responsible for that district.
The premier said he was advised that Commissioner Molibeli’s statement was false because there were three senior officers at the level of senior superintendent and two senior inspectors in that district.
But in his 19 April application, Commissioner Molibeli states that Mr Thabane has now joined forces with Mr Moramotse in their determination to “forcefully and illegally” remove him from office at all costs to immunise themselves from prosecution.
“Hardly six weeks down the line (after the 10 March 2020 judgement), the first respondent (Mr Thabane) in concert with the second respondent (Mr Moramotse), have again strategised to achieve the same goal, in circumstances where the second respondent was under investigations and was to be arraigned before the courts for contravening the lockdown Covid-19 regulations.
“The first and second respondents’ tact, strategy and ploy is not surprising, coming hard on heels of the (17 April 2020) order (staying Commissioner Molibeli’s suspension), that the following day they would move to illegally suspend and forcefully remove me notwithstanding the order aforesaid, in order to install someone in the office who would deflect the course of justice and the rule of law.
“The deployment of the military was limited to Maseru city only; there were no military operations of the same scale and magnitude in other parts of Maseru and other nine districts of the Kingdom. Immediately after issues of the illegality of the acting appointment of the fourth respondent (DCP Makharilele) were exposed…and the fourth respondent had written to the second respondent (Mr Moramotse), the military was withdrawn from Maseru city streets back to the military base,” Commissioner Molibeli states.
He also states that on Saturday he telephoned DCP Makharilele who told him that he (DCP Makharilele) had a meeting with Lesotho Defence Force commander Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela and other high-ranking army and police officers. He said according to DCP Makharilele, the legality of his appointment as acting commissioner when there was still a substantive commissioner was queried in that meeting. This led to DCP Makharilele writing to Mr Moramotse to decline the appointment that same day (See story above).