UNPAID legal bills have ultimately led Chief Prosecutor, Senior Counsel Shaun Abrahams and his colleague Advocate Motene Rafoneke to withdraw themselves from the case in which 10 soldiers are accused with the 2017 death of three men at a military base in Setibing, Maseru.
April 19, 2023
4 min read
Unpaid chief prosecutor recuses himself
Chief prosecutor, SC Shaun Abrahams
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The accused include Major Pitso Ramoepane, Brigadier Rapele Mphaki, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Captain Mahlehle Moeletsi, Lance Corporal Mahlomola Makhoali and Privates Nthatakane Motanyane, Motšoane Machai, Liphang Sefako, Nemase Faso and Tieho Tikiso.
They allegedly strangled Lekhoele Noko, Molise Pakela and Khothatso Makibinyane at the Setibeng army base on May 16, 2017, before dumping their bodies in the Mohale Dam.
It is alleged that the soldiers kidnapped and murdered the three men after their release from police custody, where they had been detained in connection with a shooting incident that happened at the Maseru border post on May 13, 2017.
The Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane, asked for the High Court’s indulgence on Monday this week as she is working tirelessly to ensure that all parties are comfortable and ready to proceed with the matter without any further delays.
She, therefore, asked the court to postpone the trial to April 24.
"Thirteen witnesses have already been sworn in, and if we were to engage new counsel, it would cause further delays as they would have to go back and familiarise themselves with the particulars of the case," she said, pleading with the current lawyers to continue with the matter.
She said these administrative issues would be addressed, and the counsel would be ready to continue with the trial as scheduled.
But Advocate Letuka Molati, who represents some of the soldiers, said there was no application for deferment filed in court by the DPP.
"The only application before court is that of withdrawal, having been notified to come and appear to deal with it," he noted.
Molati opposed the application from the bar without an accompanying notice and affidavit.
Another lawyer defending some of the accused soldiers, King’s Counsel Karabo Mohau, supported Molati’s submission, urging the court to proceed with the business of the day as it had been planned.
"No reasons have been shown as to why the court should indulge the matter," he noted.
Advocate Qalehang Letsika, also for the defence, said the postponement would only be unfair to their clients as the case has been dragging for a long time.
"We do not have any objections so far as the withdrawal application is concerned, we are ready to proceed with the matter," he noted.
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Letsika said the defence has always been blamed for stopping cases, even when that is not the case.
He said SC Abrahams' affidavit showed that he had been engaging the DPP on his legal fees issues from as far back as July 2022.
"We ought to know why the DPP cannot engage local counsel as this now affects the speedy trial," he said, adding that this is the fourth time that "administrative issues" by the DPP have caused postponement of the matter.
Advocate Rafoneke submitted that the DPP said she would need time to get things on track in order to deal with the "money issues", hence, the plea for postponement.
For his part, the presiding judge, Justice Realeboha Mathaba, said he highlighted the financial concerns to the DPPS as far back as September 2022.
"I asked whether the DPP had enough funds to engage external counsel on the matter aside from counsel from the office," he said.
"The DPP, however, showed that only four lawyers at her office could be able to prosecute the case but added that they also have other engagements."
Justice Mathaba warned that although he was prepared to postpone the matter for hearing to April 24, it would not be rescheduled on the grounds of administrative issues anymore.
He said he would be left with no other option but to release the accused on bail next week if the DPP is still not ready by then.