A letter written by Lesotho opposition politician Bokang Ramatšella dated January 29th, addressed to the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences, has led to the Lesotho Anti-Corruption Unit scrutinising Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and his son, Potlako.
According to Lesotho-based MNNE Centre for Investigative Journalism (MNNCIJ), the pair will be investigated for “serious allegations of corrupt practices and money laundering” linked to the Gupta family. The directorate’s spokesperson, Matlhokomelo Senoko, is said to have confirmed to the MNNCIJ the investigation was at a preliminary stage.
Thabane’s senior private secretary, Lefu Manyokole, said the prime minister was not aware of these developments: “The matter has not come to the attention of the prime minister’s office. We would be able to comment on it if we knew about it.”
In his letter, Ramatšella is to have indicated he was submitting his request in terms of section 35 of Lesotho’s Prevention of Corruption and Economic Offences Act. The act provides that “if a person has reasonable grounds to suspect that a serious economic offence has been or is being committed, and that an attempt has been made or is being made to commit such an offence, he may lay the matter in question before the director …”
Ramatšella revealed the allegations related to Thomas and Potlako Thabane’s “collusion/collaboration with the Gupta-linked shady letterbox Tequesta company and its suspicious acquisition of mining rights at Mothae Diamond Mine”.
The Daily Maverick reports that in December 2017, a joint investigation by MNNCIJ and amaBhungane unearthed documents showing that the government, through former mining minister Tlali Khasu, gave rights to the Hong Kong-based Tequesta Group to operate the Mothae mine. Tequesta’s sole director was the Guptas’ close business partner, Salim Essa.
The report detailed how at the time the rights, worth an estimated $8.5 million (R119-million), were still vested in Canadian miner Lucara. Thabane denied any personal benefit from the Tequesta deal, insisting he was motivated only by the desire to promote development in Lesotho.
It is claimed the Guptas offered to fund his re-election campaign before the fiercely contested February 2015 poll, with a senior government source reportedly telling investigators that the Guptas had funded the campaign to the tune of R10 million.
Potlako is reported to have denied any partnership, saying: “I’m a businessman and a politician as well – people come to me with proposals. They [Guptas] went to register a local company, but nothing came out of it. They just talked … I think we wanted to be partners, but it never happened.”
Asked if the Guptas had offered to fund Thabane’s re-election campaign, he said: “We wanted [the Guptas] to. We made arrangements for them to provide funding. But then they suddenly lost interest. They never provided a cent. They wanted a mine. The mine they were targeting they couldn’t get. After that, all communication stopped.”