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I was forced to lie: murder witness

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Mohalenyane Phakela

A TEARFUL Police Constable (PC) Tumelo Ntoane accused his former boss, Senior Superintendent Thabo Tšukulu, of threatening to kill him to get to lie about the circumstances leading to the 2016 murder of (PC) Mokalekale Khetheng.

PC Ntoane, who is a state witness, made the accusation this week while testifying in Snr Supt Tšukulu and three other police officers’ trial for the murder on PC Khetheng.

Snr Supt Tšukulu was the Officer Commanding Hlotse Police Station in Leribe where PC Khetheng was last seen on 26 March 2016. This as he was being arrested by PC Ntoane and fellow police officers, PCs Mabohlokoa Makotoko and Khothatso Mphutlane. PC Khetheng had been arrested on arson charges but was never seen alive again. At the time, police officers claimed that he had disappeared from custody. His remains were eventually exhumed at the Lepereng Cemetery, Maseru in August 2017.

Snr Supt Tšukulu was subsequently arrested and charged with his murder alongside fellow police officers, Senior Inspector Mothibeli Mofolo, Senior Inspector Mabitle Matona and Sub-Inspector Haleokoe Taasoane and opposition Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) deputy leader, Tšeliso Mokhosi.

Mr Mokhosi, who served as Defence and National Security minister in the Pakalitha Mosisili-led seven party coalition government from 2015 to 2017, was freed last July after the state withdrew charges against him and turned him into a state witness.

Former Commissioner of Police, Molahlehi Letsoepa, was also removed from the list of accused persons on the grounds that he could not be charged in absentia. He is in exile after he fled the country in 2017, claiming the previous Thomas Thabane administration wanted to murder him.

The murder trial is before Judge Charles Hungwe in the High Court.

A highly emotional PC Ntoane could not hold back tears as he was led in his testimony by lead prosecutor, Shaun Abrahams.

He told the court that his then boss, Snr Supt Tšukulu threatened to kill him to force him to lie that PC Khetheng had left Hlotse Police Station alone on the day he “disappeared”.

He said Snr Supt Tšukulu ordered him to lie in an affidavit which was filed in opposition of PC Khetheng’s father, Thabo Khetheng’s 2016 habeas corpus application to compel the police to present his son after he had allegedly gone missing.

PC Ntoane said he and PC Makotoko were called to a meeting by Snr Insp Mofolo which was held in Snr Supt Tšukulu’s office. He said they were ordered to tell the court that PC Khetheng was never arrested but instead called to meet Snr Supt Tšukulu and that PC Khetheng subsequently left the station on his own.

“Snr Supt Tšukulu instructed me and Makotoko to say that PC Khetheng was told to wait at Haelale House (at Hlotse Police Station) for Snr Supt Tšukulu to see him,” PC Ntoane told the court this week.

“Makotoko asked why we were being ordered to lie. Snr Supt Tšukulu replied that the matter was being handled by the police and that was what we were going to say. Snr Supt Mofolo nodded his head in agreement (with Tšukulu).

“Subsequent to the meeting, we went to Maseru where we were to make affidavits in line with Snr Supt Tšukulu’s version of what had transpired. When we arrived at the legal office of the Police Headquarters, we were made to wait outside with Makotoko while Snr Supt Tšukulu went in to talk to Supt Tholoana. We were later called in and Supt Tholoana asked whether we agreed with Snr Supt Tšukulu’s version. Makotoko kept quiet while I confirmed the version.”

At that point, PC Ntoane broke down in tears. He raised his face mask and also took out to his handkerchief to cover his eyes.

This prompted Advocate Abrahams to request an adjournment of proceedings which was duly granted by Justice Hungwe to allow PC Ntoane to recollect himself. During the five-minute adjournment, PC Ntoane sipped some water he had been given by Adv Abrahams as he continued to wipe off his tears.

When proceedings resumed, PC Ntoane said that he had lied in fear of his life because he had learnt that PC Khetheng had died and his body was missing.

“That (affidavit) story was a lie. There was a rumour that PC Khetheng had died and was missing. I felt my life was in danger in that what happened to PC Khetheng was likely to happen to me. For them to ask us to lie meant they knew what had happened.

“I felt I had to go with their lie to keep myself alive,” PC Ntoane said in a trembling voice.

PC Ntoane said they then proceeded to the government’s Law Office to swear to the affidavits. He said there they met one Adv Moshoeshoe who asked him whether he agreed with Snr Supt Tšukulu’s version.

“I was still in the company of Snr Supt Tšukulu so I was still afraid. I was then made to sign a page written ‘deponent’. It was the last page of my affidavit.”

PC Ntoane said he went in alone to sign while PC Makotoko remained in the vehicle. This after Snr Supt Tšukulu had said she “would not be needed”. Thereafter, the three of them drove back to Leribe.

PC Ntoane said that at one time in Leribe, Snr Supt Tšukulu again threatened him with death.

“Adv Motiea Teele was now our lawyer. On the second trip to his (Teele’s) office in Hlotse, Snr Supt Tšukulu told me that I should say PC Khetheng left on his own and was never arrested.  He said I should say so if I wanted to stay alive and continue working for the police force. That was a threat to me so I had to abide,” PC Ntoane said.

The trial continues today.

 

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