…some given to top cops and politicians during the political turmoil
BILLY NTAOTE and RETŠELISITSOE KHABO
The acquisition of 1500 firearms by the Lesotho Police Staff Association (LEPOSA) during the 2014-2015 political and security instability appears to have been riddled with corruption, negligence, opaque arms dealing, and gifting of guns to government ministers and senior police officers.
In March 2020 the current LEPOSA executive committee commissioned a forensic audit into the acquisition of the arms following suspicions of foul play under the previous executive committee. An auditing firm called GH Consulting conducted the investigation.
LEPOSA is an association of members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service. The association acquired the arms under a “firearm scheme”, which is a member contribution savings group to augment access to guns for police officers because of a shortage within the police service.
GH Consulting’s report found that LEPOSA’s members had paid for the firearms through monthly stop-order contributions into the scheme for the twelve months from December 2014 to November 2015. The total amount contributed by each member was M6 504, non-member police officers paid M8 500 and members of the public paid M9 000.
Among the audit, report findings were that the 1500 guns were brought into the country in contravention of an arms embargo imposed by South Africa to try and stem the instability in Lesotho.
To circumvent the embargo, it appears that LEPOSA arranged for the guns to be delivered to Namibia and then smuggled into Lesotho via a special envoy sent by the association. The guns had been flown via South Africa from their source in Czechoslovakia, and therefore fell under the arms embargo.
Phakiso Molise, Chief Executive of Maqhubu World Trade, an arms trading business that facilitated LEPOSA’s purchase, said the importation of the firearms into Lesotho was done within the confines of the local and international laws.
“The firearms importation would not have happened if it was illegal. Only South Africa had a problem, hence its embargo. But our success goes to show that Lesotho is an independent state,” he said.
“We could not have them delivered into Lesotho directly because of lack of direct flights into [the country] but opted for a flight to be chartered from Namibia to Lesotho.”
Molise’s explanation fails to address the fact that regardless of Lesotho’s sovereign independence or the direction of flight paths, the importation of the guns, via South Africa, contravened the arms embargo.
MNN, when inquiring why the weapons were delivered to Namibia instead of Lesotho, learned from sources who wanted to remain anonymous that LEPOSA failed to import the firearms into Lesotho because of the country’s political and security situation and because of the embargo.
The source said LEPOSA was assisted by colleagues in Namibia who received the firearms and handed the stockpile over to a visiting LEPOSA envoy.
“They smuggled the firearms into Lesotho through South Africa on a chartered flight from Namibia as there was no way they would have been allowed to pass through South Africa with the weapons at the time,” said the source.
When LEPOSA acquired the firearms, Lesotho was in the midst of political and security volatility which was threatening the stability of the country.
Opaque arms dealer
Not only did the importation of guns break the arms embargo, but the origin of the weapons is opaque.
GH Consulting found that the guns were purchased from a Ceska Zbrojovka A. S in the Czech Republic, and not a Fratelli Tanfoglio S.V.L in Italy, as per the purchase agreement produced to the auditors. The purchase price paid to the Czech arms dealer was also higher than the Italian supplier. Furthermore, the auditors found that there was no purchase agreement with the Czech company.
Fratelli Tanfoglio S.A.S, which was originally engaged for the supply of the firearms, told MNN it could not fulfill the order “due to political reasons” in Lesotho.
Molise, on the other hand, claimed that all was well with the firearms importation until the Italians simply “refused” to give him an export permit, hence the importation being made from the Czech Republic.
In a WhatsApp message Molise said: “A person who thinks any wrong is the one who’s sick. Maqhubu World Trade was operating directly from Sweden and Swedish authorities could have not allowed any arms smuggling. The end-users had been clear who they are. It was Lesotho Mounted Police as you see the packing list. Central bank of Lesotho could have not allowed any transaction of such. The Central Bank from the manufacturer could have not accepted any money for smuggled guns. Arms dealing has many checks and balances, that cannot be compromised. We no longer in a cold war, eras before 1990”.
The Italian dealer, Fratelli, appears to have been more meticulous in applying the law and in understanding the political and security situation of the country of import. In response to MNN questions, the company said: “We received in 2015 a request from Maqhubu World Trade Company for pistols in cal. 9x19mm to be sold to the Lesotho Police Staff Association. We had applied, following the Italian Laws, for an export permit in the name of the Lesotho Police Staff Association. After sending our Export Permit Authority all the documents and permits requested by the Italian law… unfortunately, the export permit was denied due to ‘political reasons’ as per the Italian Military Firearms Law Nr. 185 dated July 9th, 1990, Art.1 paragraphs 1 and 5. Due to the above we couldn’t sell those pistols to the Lesotho Police Staff Association”.
Radek Hauerland, external relations manager of Ceska Zbrojovka A. S confirmed to MNN that “Česká zbrojovka A. Sin Czech Republic in the past delivered pistols to Lesotho Mounted Police Service”.
Hauerland said the export of arms by Česká zbrojovka is strictly governed by Czech and EU export-related rules and regulations and coordinated with relevant Czech authorities. He said Lesotho was not on the EU and UN sanctions list therefore the country was able to acquire the pistols.
Missing guns and gifting the powerful
When the weapons finally made their way into Lesotho, it seems that LEPOSA’s generosity extended well beyond the confines of the contributors to the “firearms scheme”. While many of the guns were given to legitimate contributors, many were not. Among other findings, the audit reported that:
- 14 LEPOSA members were given firearms but these were never recorded.
- Six allocated pistols did not have any serial numbers, making it impossible to trace whose hands they are now in. The audit report does list who initially received the guns, but they are untraceable after that.
- Two pistols were given to individuals who never made any contributions to the firearm scheme.
- There are 159 pistols missing.
- There are only 12 pistols still in stock.
Perhaps most alarming is that the audit found that the association gifted the then Minister of Police Monyane Moleleki, the then Commissioner of Police Molahlehi Letsoepa and the former Minister of Labour Keketso Rantšo with guns.
These individuals had not made any contributions to the scheme, but this is perhaps beside the point given the obvious conflicts of interest that arise.
Quizzed about the firearm, Moleleki said: “Yes I still have that gun here with me. It was gifted to me by the LEPOSA executive committee of that time. I was gifted this gun by the committee, not by an individual within the committee. I never made any contribution, and I did not even pay any cent. But they gifted the gun…”.
The auditors also discovered that the firearm that was given to the Letsoepa, the then Commissioner of Police, “did not show any serial number and it was not even signed for as having been taken”.
The auditors reported that they “cannot say for certainty that this firearm [gifted to Letsoepa] was actually given to the commissioner of police in the absence of clear evidence”.
Letsoepa is self-exiled in South Africa because he is a suspect in the sensational killing of his junior officer, police constable, Mokalekale Khetheng, whose remains were buried among unidentified persons in an unmarked grave.
Attempts to obtain comment from Letsoepa were fruitless because his mobile was unavailable.
Negligence in firearms scheme reporting
The auditors found that the Firearm Scheme’s records were badly maintained and the “project’s receipt and payments were captured into the main association’s bank account, which made it difficult to identify all the expenditure related to the project”.
The auditors noted their investigation was stymied by missing supporting documents.
“The clear example is for the trip made by the association’s members to Namibia, as the firearms were delivered to Namibia instead of Lesotho. As expected, we were unable to get any monetary costs of the trip. This means that we cannot confirm the completeness of the project expenses…”, reads part of the GH consulting report.
The auditors said they were not provided with minutes of the executive committee meeting in relation to the firearms scheme and there were also no financial reports prepared.
The auditors found there was an amount of M80 000 which was paid to Maqhubu for travel agency fees three people to the Czech Republic to inspect the firearms.
“We however discovered that the association was represented by only two people not three. The question is who was the third person and why was that person paid for by the association using the project’s funds. Related to this, [a] per diem of M60 000 was also paid for these three people. Even in this case, the only available document was the requisition and the payments that were made and traceable through the bank statements. The requisition was only signed by the finance manager. This is not a good control measure as documents have to be signed by at least two people, one making the requisition and the other approving,” said the auditors in their report.
The report shows that the records were not well maintained and as a result the completeness of the expenditure cannot be guaranteed as the supporting documentation was insufficient.
LEPOSA’s Secretary General, Inspector Moraleli Motloli, told MNN that he could not discuss the contents of the audit and that it would be discussed with members.
MNN sent questions to the office of the Commissioner of Police Holomo Molibeli about the manner in which LEPOSA had handled the firearms scheme, but these were forwarded to the officer commanding the Crime Investigation Division of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), Deputy Commissioner of Police, Beleme Lebajoa. Lebajoa’s office is in charge of the issuance of firearms licenses and their control.
Lebajoa said his office has opened an investigation into the issues raised in the audit.
“We cannot say whether the findings of the audit are genuine or not but [our] investigations will reveal,” he said.
Senior Superintendent Motsamai Kholumo, the former Secretary General of LEPOSA who handled the firearms scheme in 2014-2015, told MNN he could not respond to questions unless mandated by the incumbent Secretary General.