Judge fumes over Tha­hane trial

Lesotho Times - - News - Tefo Tefo

HIGH Court judge Jus­tice Tšeliso Mon­aphathi has ex­pressed con­cern at the con­tin­ued post­pone­ment of cases in­volv­ing high­pro­file sus­pects.

Jus­tice Mon­aphathi made the remark on Tues­day this week when he post­poned the cor­rup­tion trial of for­mer En­ergy, Me­te­o­rol­ogy and Wa­ter Af­fairs Min­is­ter Ti­mothy Tha­hane to 26 Novem­ber 2014.

The post­pone­ment came after Dr Tha­hane’s lawyer told the court he was not aware that the case was sched­uled to pro­ceed this week.

Dr Tha­hane is fac­ing two counts of fraud for al­legedly swin­dling the gov­ern­ment of over M24 mil­lion in 2008 through the Block Farm­ing Project, when he was still Fi­nance and De­vel­op­ment Plan­ning Min­is­ter.

The case first went be­fore the High Court on 12 Au­gust 2014 for set-down, but the hear­ing sched­ule of 12, 13 and 14 Novem­ber 2014, which had been sug­gested by both pros­e­cu­tion and de­fense coun­sel, could not be con­firmed then after Dr Tha­hane’s lawyer, Qhale­hang Let­sika, ar­gued the state had re­fused to give his client the wit­nesses’ state­ments.

Jus­tice Mon­aphathi then or­dered the pros­e­cu­tion to pro­vide the de­fence with the doc­u­ments in ques­tion, rul­ing that it was the ac­cused’s right to have such state­ments.

Ac­cord­ing to Jus­tice Mon­aphathi, the pros­e­cu­tion’s rea­sons for re­fus­ing to pro­vide the state­ments as re­quested were “vague and not gen­uine”.

Jus­tice Mon­aphathi — who made this ob­ser­va­tion after the pros­e­cu­tion had ar­gued that if cer­tain doc­u­ments and state­ments were re­leased to Dr Tha­hane, on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions per­tain­ing to other in­di­vid­u­als the crown had not dis­closed might be jeop­ar­dised — then post­poned the case to 1 Septem­ber 2014 .

“This rea­son is in­ge­nious and I don’t ac­cept it. Why don’t you give him pho­to­copies and keep the orig­i­nals?

“This is­sue of state­ments doesn’t make any sense to me. It is not his business if the state­ments also in­volve a dif­fer­ent case. It is his right to have those state­ments so that he can pre­pare for his de­fence.

“This mat­ter is post­poned to 1 Septem­ber to en­able the crown to de­liver state­ments to the ac­cused and that date is only for men­tion. And on that day, I may end up con­firm­ing those dates that have been sug­gested. At the mo­ment, those dates are provisional,” Jus­tice Mon­aphathi said then.

The trial was sub­se­quently sched­uled for 11 Novem­ber 2014, but Dr Tha­hane’s lawyer, Mr Let­sika took the court by sur­prise when he ar­gued he and his client were not pre­pared to pro­ceed with the case. Ac­cord­ing to the lawyer, the trial dates — 12, 13 and 14 Novem­ber 2014 — were only provisional and sub­ject to con­fir­ma­tion, hence his sur­prise at see­ing the court’s roll in­di­cat­ing the case was sched­uled for Tues­day un­til Fri­day this week.

Mr Let­sika said: “When the court ad­journed in Au­gust, the case was post­poned to 1 Septem­ber for set-down on con­di­tion that in the mean­time, the pros­e­cu­tion served us with the docket.

“We also sug­gested 12, 13 and 14 Novem­ber as provisional dates for the hear­ing, which were to be con­firmed on the 1st of Septem­ber.

“But on 1 Septem­ber, the court did not con­vene and as far as we are con­cerned, the dates still re­main provisional.

“I was sur­prised to see the mat­ter placed on the roll for the trial to­day (Tues­day).

“I had ear­lier in­ti­mated that I would not be alone when the trial pro­ceeds be­cause my client wanted to have two coun­sel to rep­re­sent him.”

How­ever, Mr Let­sika’s ar­gu­ment was chal­lenged by Jus­tice Mon­aphathi, who asked if he was not the one who had pro­posed the days in ques­tion.

But while ad­mit­ting he had sug­gested the sched­ule, the lawyer main­tained he be­lieved they were only provisional dates which still needed con­fir­ma­tion.

How­ever, the lawyer prose­cut­ing the case, Ad­vo­cate Guido Pen­zhorn said the hear­ing dates had been con­firmed in Au­gust after their sug­ges­tion by Mr Let­sika him­self.

“I no­tice the ac­cused (Dr Tha­hane) is not be­fore court and per­haps Mr Let­sika can ex­plain why he is not here.

“It was agreed that the docket should be given to the de­fence by the 1st of Septem­ber and it was ac­cord­ingly done, and the mat­ter was set to pro­ceed on 12, 13 and 14 Novem­ber. “How can the mat­ter be sched­uled for three days only for set-down, if it was not for trial? The crown is now ready to pro­ceed with the case,” he said.

After this pro­nounce­ment, the trial started in the ab­sence of Dr Tha­hane, who how­ever, joined the pro­ceed­ings about 25 min­utes later after the judge pressed Mr Let­sika on his where­abouts.

Although Jus­tice Mon­aphathi sub­se­quently post­poned the case to 26 Novem­ber, he raised con­cern over the fre­quent post­pone­ments of high-pro­file cases.

“I need to make the remark that the court is con­cerned about sev­eral post­pone­ments of cases in­volv­ing high-pro­file peo­ple.

“It now seems to be the tra­di­tion to post­pone th­ese high-pro­file cases. This is very costly to tax­pay­ers, and I re­peat this should not be tol­er­ated.

“It is those tax­pay­ers who com­plain day in and day out about cases in courts. This is im­por­tant be­cause it af­fects the rep­u­ta­tion of this court and all the courts in this coun­try. Tax­pay­ers see us draw­ing our salaries for post­pon­ing cases and that per­cep­tion is for us to re­move,” Jus­tice Mon­aphathi said, adding the trail would con­tinue on 26, 27 and 28 Novem­ber as well as on 2 and 3 De­cem­ber this year.

Ac­cord­ing to the charge-sheet, Dr Tha­hane al­legedly mis­rep­re­sented to Stan­dard Le­sotho Bank on 6 June 2008, that the then Prime Min­is­ter, Pakalitha Mo­sisili and Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture Ralechate ‘Mokose had en­dorsed the Block Farm­ing project for veg­etable farm­ers at Temo-‘moho, Mpha­rane Agri­cul­tural As­so­ci­a­tion of Leribe, re­sult­ing in gov­ern­ment los­ing M18 092 587.50.

The sec­ond count re­lates to Dr Tha­hane’s al­leged mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion to Stan­dard Le­sotho Bank that fuel sup­plied to Temo-‘moho, to­tal­ing M6 076 502.68, was payable by the Bank to the sup­pli­ers, En­gen Le­sotho Limited.

How­ever, the state ar­gues M4.8mil­lion had al­ready been paid out to Temo-‘moho by in­di­vid­ual farm­ers, which Dr Tha­hane was aware of.

For­mer min­is­ter of en­ergy, me­te­o­rol­ogy and Wa­ter Af­fairs Ti­mothy Tha­hane.

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