DCEO probes M28 mil­lion spy equip­ment scan­dal

Lesotho Times - - Front Page - Keiso Mohloboli

There“was a team of sol­diers and Na­tional Se­cu­rity In­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers who were specif­i­cally as­signed to spy on peo­ple us­ing that equip­ment

THE Direc­torate on Cor­rup­tion and Eco­nomic Of­fences (DCEO) is in­ves­ti­gat­ing claims that the for­mer coali­tion gov­ern­ment pur­chased M28, 4 mil­lion worth of cy­ber equip­ment to spy on mem­bers of the se­cu­rity agen­cies and or­di­nary civil­ians, the Lesotho Times has learnt.

Au­thor­i­ta­tive gov­ern­ment sources this week told this pub­li­ca­tion that even though the for­mer gov­ern­ment had taken de­liv­ery of the spy­ing equip­ment from a South African com­pany, it had not paid the full amount be­cause it di­verted part of the M28, 4 mil­lion to fund the elec­tion cam­paign of one of the for­mer govern­ing par­ties.

DCEO Di­rec­tor Gen­eral Borotho Mat­soso yes­ter­day told the Lesotho Times that the DCEO had “opened a case to in­ves­ti­gate why such equip­ment was bought and where the bud­get came from”.

“The for­mer Min­is­ter of De­fence and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Tšeliso Mokhosi and the for­mer NSS Di­rec­tor Gen­eral Tumo Lekhooa skipped the coun­try and went into ex­ile af­ter they had been called for in­ter­ro­ga­tion by DCEO in­ves­ti­ga­tors on the is­sue.

“I can only as­sure you that the pay­ment for the cy­ber se­cu­rity equip­ment was stopped be­fore the funds could be re­leased by Min­istry of Fi­nance. What we are cur­rently busy with is to es­tab­lish whether or not the equip­ment had al­ready been de­liv­ered and if so, we want to es­tab­lish where it is kept be­cause it is not at the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ser­vice (NSS) or Mil­i­tary In­tel­li­gence (MI) of­fices,” Mr Mat­soso said.

He added: “The DCEO is busy with in­ves­ti­ga­tions and hope­fully we will get a re­port on what ex­actly hap­pened.

“There are peo­ple within the (de­fence) min­istry who still in­sist that the equip­ment was bought and it was al­ready be­ing used (when the for­mer gov­ern­ment was still in power). Oth­ers say that the equip­ment never came be­cause it was not paid for….we are try­ing to as­cer­tain the facts”.

Al­though Mr Mat­soso said the DCEO was seek­ing to es­tab­lish where the bud­get for the spy­ing equip­ment came from, the lat­est re­port by the Au­di­tor Gen­eral, Lucy Liphafa, shows that the pur­chase of the spy­ing equip­ment was among the nearly half a bil­lion mal­oti in ir­reg­u­lar and un­bud­geted ex­penses made by the for­mer gov­ern­ment.

Ms Liphafa’s au­dit re­port for the 2016/17 fi­nan­cial year, re­leased a fort­night ago, shows that the for­mer gov­ern­ment also di­verted part of the M450 mil­lion meant for stu­dent bur­saries to fund the ter­mi­na­tion of the con­tro­ver­sial Bid­vest fleet services ten­der which was mired in cor­rup­tion as well as fund­ing the June 3 2017 elec­tions.

The Lesotho Times has learnt that the snoop­ing de­vices were ac­tu­ally de­liv­ered and used by a team com­pris­ing of NSS and MI of­fi­cers to spy on sol­diers, the po­lice, Lesotho Correctional Ser­vice (LCS) staff and even other NSS of­fi­cers.

The equip­ment was also used to spy on civil­ian po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists and some me­dia houses as the for­mer seven par­ties’ coali­tion be­came in­creas­ingly para­noid in the face of grow­ing op­po­si­tion to its rule which was fi­nally ended by its elec­toral de­feat on 3 June 2017.

Re­la­tions among staffers in se­cu­rity clus­ter agen­cies were also far from cor­dial with sus­pi­cions run­ning deep that some sup­ported the op­po­si­tion. A num­ber of sol­diers had been jailed from within the Lesotho De­fence Force (LDF) over al­leged muti­nous be­hav­iour while po­lice of­fi­cers were gen­er­ally re­garded as sym­pa­thetic to the All Ba­sotho Con­ven­tion (ABC).

Ac­cord­ing to sources close to the mat­ter, the spy­ing de­vices were used to hack peo­ples’ emails and mo­bile phones to dis­cover who they com­mu­ni­cated with as well as the con­tent of their com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

“There was a team of sol­diers and Na­tional Se­cu­rity In­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers who were specif­i­cally as­signed to spy on peo­ple us­ing that equip­ment,” one source said.

“Ini­tially, that team of spies worked from one of the of­fices at NSS head­quar­ters in Maseru but they later moved to work at the MI of- fice at Ha Ratjo­mose Bar­racks,” an­other source said.

An­other source said that al­though the for­mer gov­ern­ment pur­chased M28, 4 mil­lion worth of spy­ing equip­ment and it was in fact de­liv­ered, it had not paid the full amount be­cause it di­verted at least M18 mil­lion to fi­nance the elec­tion cam­paign of one of the par­ties that was in the for­mer govern­ing coali­tion. The sup­pli­ers of the equip­ment had nonethe­less be­lieved they would get their money since they were deal­ing with gov­ern­ment.

“They (the for­mer gov­ern­ment) did not use all the M28, 4 mil­lion for its in­tended pur­pose of pay­ing for the spy­ing equip­ment bought from a South African com­pany.

“This was be­cause they di­verted some of the money to fi­nance the elec­tion cam­paign of one of the par­ties that was in gov­ern­ment. As a con­se­quence, we had to halt plans that were al­ready un­der­way to re­lease an ad­di­tional M18 mil­lion from trea­sury to set­tle the ar­rears when we as­sumed the reins of power last year,” the source from the cur­rent gov­ern­ment said.

The NSS Di­rec­tor Gen­eral, Pheello Ralenkoane, yes­ter­day is­sued a brief re­sponse, con­firm­ing to this pub­li­ca­tion that dur­ing the 2016/17 fi­nan­cial year, the NSS re­quested M28, 4 mil­lion to pur­chase the equip­ment as in­di­cated in the Au­di­tor Gen­eral’s re­port.

“What I will only con­firm is that the M28, 4 mil­lion that ap­pears in the Au­di­tor Gen­eral’s re­port is true. That kind of money was re­quested in the name of NSS,” Mr Ralenkoane said, adding this was as far he could com­ment on the is­sue.

On his part, the Min­is­ter of De­fence and Na­tional Se­cu­rity, Sen­tje Le­bona, yes­ter­day said he could not say for cer­tain whether or not the equip­ment had in­deed been pur­chased as the army and the DCEO were still in­ves­ti­gat­ing the mat­ter.

Mr Le­bona said that he be­gan the probe im­me­di­ately af­ter his ap­point­ment last year be­cause there were al­le­ga­tions that his min­istry had been turned into a spy agency, a po­si­tion he had wanted to “prove wrong”.

“The is­sues of this coun­try are un­pre­dictable and there­fore I won’t deny that there was a pro­cure­ment of cy­ber se­cu­rity equip­ment. How­ever, both my in­ves­ti­ga­tions and those of the DCEO have not been com­pleted,” Mr Le­bona said.

Mr Le­bona added that what he knew so far is that when the cur­rent gov­ern­ment as­sumed of­fice in June last year, they stopped the pay­ment for the cy­ber se­cu­rity equip­ment. He how­ever, said it was still not clear whether the pay­ment that was stopped was for ad­di­tional equip­ment or for equip­ment that had al­ready been bought.

Mean­while, LDF Pub­lic Af­fairs Of­fi­cer, Cap­tain Sak­eng Lekola, yes­ter­day said al­though the cur­rent LDF com­mand was aware of the al­le­ga­tions that the Mo­sisili gov­ern­ment pur­chased the spy­ing equip­ment, “to­day there is no such equip­ment at LDF of­fices”.

In ad­di­tion to the pur­chase of spy­ing equip­ment, the for­mer gov­ern­ment had sought to shut down the pop­u­lar so­cial me­dia plat­forms of Face­book and Twit­ter in Novem­ber 2016.

The Lesotho Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Au­thor­ity (LCA) had di­rected the coun­try’s two telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions op­er­a­tors, Vo­da­com Lesotho (VCL) and Econet Tele­com Lesotho (ETL) to jus­tify the con­tin­ued pro­vi­sion of Face­book and Twit­ter services.

The LCA di­rec­tive was roundly con­demned by dif­fer­ent sec­tions of so­ci­ety in­clud­ing the Con­sumers’ Pro­tec­tion As­so­ci­a­tion (CPA) which said the move by the then gov­ern­ment stemmed from the “un­jus­ti­fied fear by politi­cians to be held ac­count­able”.

DCEO Di­rec­tor Gen­eral Adv Borotho Mat­soso

NSS Di­rec­tor Gen­eral Pheello Ralenkoane

DCEO Di­rec­tor Gen­eral Borotho Mat­soso.

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