Lesotho court to decide if PM can be charged with wife’s murder

Lawyers for Thomas Thabane argue he should not be charged while still in power

Lesotho prime minister Thomas Thabane and his wife, Maesaiah. Photograph: Samson Motikoe/AFP via Getty

Lesotho prime minister Thomas Thabane and his wife, Maesaiah. Photograph: Samson Motikoe/AFP via Getty

 

Lesotho’s high court has been asked to decide whether prime minister Thomas Thabane can be charged with the 2017 murder of his estranged wife while he is still leader of the small southern Africa nation.

The decision to seek the high court’s direction came after lawyers for Mr Thabane argued on Monday that he should not be charged with the murder of Lipolelo Thabane (58) while he remains in power, because his position as a sitting prime minister granted him immunity from prosecution.

Police had expected to charge Mr Thabane (80) with his former wife’s murder on Friday in a scheduled court appearance, but the prime minister left the country without informing the authorities for a medical check-up in South Africa.

Police had threatened to issue an arrest warrant if evidence emerged that Mr Thabane was trying to evade justice by travelling abroad, but over the weekend they stated he had been granted sick leave until February 27th.

Despite this, Mr Thabane made a surprise appearance on Monday at the magistrate court in Maseru, the capital, to hear his defence lawyers argue his case for immunity.

Eight assassins

During the hearing the defence asked that the constitutional court – the highest in the country – rule on the matter, but the presiding magistrate referred it to the high court and then postponed the murder case.

Police believe Mr Thabane colluded with his current wife, Maesaiah Thabane, to murder her predecessor, who was shot dead near her home in the capital two days before he became prime minister for the second time in June 2017.

Lipolelo Thabane had reportedly refused to divorce her husband and had won a case to retain her privileges as first lady while he remained Lesotho’s leader.

Maesaiah Thabane (42), the prime minister’s wife since 2017, was charged with murdering Lipolelo last month. She is currently out on bail. Police believe she hired eight assassins to kill Lipolelo. She has not been asked to enter a plea yet.

The police say their investigations have linked Mr Thabane’s mobile number to communication records from the scene of the shooting. He has denied any involvement in his ex-wife’s death.

As pressure mounted on Mr Thabane last week he announced on state radio that he would step down from office at the end of July due to his age, but he did not mention the case against him.

Mr Thabane’s All Basotho Convention party, which is in a coalition government, had given him a deadline of last Thursday to resign. His decision to put that off until July has raised the spectre of a power vacuum in a country that has a history of political instability.