February 12, 2006
The former top Lesotho official on the Highlands Water Commission, now an influential adviser on water matters with The New Partnership for Africa’s Development, has been charged with bribery involving over R1-million.
This is the latest in a series of bribery and corruption trials connected to lucrative contracts around the Lesotho Highlands water scheme and the building of the Katse Dam.
The cases have involved bribes paid by international companies to local officials in return for securing favours relating to the dam and the water scheme, and have been part of a determined clean-up campaign by the Lesotho government.
In a dramatic turnaround, Reatile Mochebelele has now been charged along with the man who was his deputy on the commission for many years and who continues to serve in that post, Letlafuoa Molapo.
Until he appeared in court with Molapo for a preliminary hearing, Mochebelele had been on the other side of the case. Lahmeyer International, Germany’s largest engineering consultancy, had been charged for bribing Mochebelele while he was still Lesotho’s top representative on the water commission.
But the prosecution has announced that charges against Lahmeyer have been withdrawn and that Mochebelele and Molapo will stand trial for bribery.
The implication is that officials at Lahmeyer have decided to give evidence against Mochebelele. One of the bail conditions of the accused is that they may not contact several Lahmeyer officials listed as state witnesses.
If Lahmeyer officials indeed testify for the prosecution, this would be the breakthrough that investigators have been waiting for. Until now, none of those involved in any of the previous cases have been prepared to talk.
As chief delegate on the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission between 1998 and 2001, Mochebelele represented Lesotho on a joint permanent commission, holding a position higher than the CEO of the project.
Borotho Matsoso, the Director-General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences and the former deputy commissioner of police, said investigations into the activities of the two accused began in 2004 and involved follow up in Belgium, Germany and South Africa.
The case was sparked by the prosecution and conviction of Masuphe Sole, the CEO of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.
“It was obvious that Sole was not the only one,” said Matsoso. “We suspected that there were others who we had not yet touched. As we went along with his case we found payments that had been made and at that stage we were not sure who had got the money.”
During the investigation, Matsoso worked with Guido Penzhorn SC and his junior, Hjalmar Woker, both South African advocates who have been prosecuting corruption cases on behalf of Lesotho for a number of years.
Among other details, they discovered that Mochebelele had bought several properties in South Africa between 2001 and 2003, in Umhlanga Rocks, Bloemfontein and Pretoria.
The matter has been postponed until April 4 when it is expected to be transferred to the High Court for hearing.