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SCA issues arrest warrant for former exec of Lesotho Highlands project

The Lesotho Highlands Water Project is the biggest bi-national infrastructure project between the mountain kingdom and South Africa.

The Lesotho Highlands water project. Picture: Leeto M Khoza/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG – The Supreme Court of Appeal has issued a warrant of arrest for former executive of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, Reatile Mochebelele, who was convicted of bribery in Lesotho 10 years ago but sought asylum in South Africa.

Mochebelele was one of many officials who accepted bribes from engineering conglomerates to award tenders for the construction of the multi-billion rand project that today supplies water to South Africa.

When the news broke that he was implicated, he was already working for the Secretariat of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, Nepad, in South Africa.

Following his conviction in 2009, he tried to apply for asylum on the grounds that it was politically motivated, but refugee status determination officers were not convinced, and his application was rejected.

He appealed several times until the extradition application by the government of Lesotho was discharged by the Randburg Magistrates Court in 2012.

Now the Appeal Court has set aside that lower court decision and ordered that Mochebelele should be arrested, held in custody until Justice Minister Ronald Lamola decides to hand him over to Lesotho where a 5-year sentence awaits him.

LESOTHO LAUDED FOR CORRUPTION CONVICTIONS

The mountain kingdom was applauded for unravelling a complex web of corruption - where multinational engineering conglomerates paid bribes to executives to win tenders for phase 1 of the multi-billion rand Lesotho Highlands Water Project.

The companies that were found guilty were blacklisted by the World Bank for periods of up to 7 years, while officials including project Chief Executive Masupha Sole, spent years in jail after being convicted.

The Lesotho Highlands Water Project is the biggest bi-national infrastructure project between the mountain kingdom and South Africa.

Conceptualised in the 1950s, the project treaty was signed in 1986 between Lesotho’s military government and South Africa’s apartheid government.

The total cost of the four-phase project is expected to be $8billion and half of that went to Phase 1 which was constructed from the late 1980s until water started flowing in 1996.

The two countries established the Lesotho Highlands Water Commission where delegates representing both governments exercise oversight on the executing body, the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority – LHDA.

Phase 1 construction attracted internationally acclaimed conglomerates and joint ventures for feasibility studies, environmental impact assessments, advance infrastructure like electricity, roads, housing and the actual building of the dams.

It would later appear that the executives and the delegates had over time become inside agents for the bidders, giving them privileged information and getting kickbacks in return.

The first to go down was LHDA chief executive Masupha Sole, who in 2002 was found guilty of accepting bribes totalling $1 million from international consultants and contractors from the United States, Britain, Canada, France and Germany.

Sole was paid money into intermediary accounts in Lesotho, South Africa and Zurich. He was sentenced to 15 years in jail.

END OF THE ROAD FOR MOCHEBELELE

Mochebelele, who was Lesotho delegate at the commission testified as a state witness during Sole’s trial, while Canadian contractors Acres International and Germany's Lahmeyer International were also on trial for paying the bribes.

When Lahmeyer was found guilty it disclosed that its bribes had also flowed to Mochebelele and Letlafuoa Molapo, who were also charged.

At the time Mochebelele In 2008 the two were found guilty of accepting R1.8million in bribes and sentenced to 5 years each in 2009.

When Molapo started his sentence, Mochebelele fled to South Africa.

(Edited by Leeto M Khoza)

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