Feb. 24, 2020 (GIN) – Murder charges against the Prime Minister of Lesotho, Thomas Thabane, will be reconsidered in light of a novel appeal for immunity to be heard by the country’s High Court.
If his appeal is rejected, Mr. Thabane would be the first African leader to face domestic murder charges while in office.
Mr. Thabane, 80 years of age, appeared this week in the public gallery of the court in Maseru, the nation’s capital, with his present spouse who has been charged with the murder of his previous wife. Maesaiah Thabane, 42, has not yet entered a plea and is out on bail. Both have denied any wrongdoing.
According to local reports, Lipolelo Thabane, 58, was shot several times at close range as she sat in a car near her home, two days before husband’s inauguration in 2017. She had reportedly refused a divorce and won a court battle to retain her privileges as first lady until any formal separation.
Mr. Thabane remarried two months after her death.
Presidential spokesman Thabo Thakalekoala said: “The prime minister is protected by the constitution although he is not above the law. This whole exercise is just meant to embarrass him and nothing else.”
Thabane has said he will resign at the end of July, and several members of his All Basotho Convention party have been urging him to go sooner.
The killing was initially blamed on unknown criminals. Investigators now say they believe professional hitmen, possibly hired in South Africa, carried out the attack.
Maesaiah has been a controversial figure. Since the wedding she has been accused of interfering in political appointments. A fund she set up to help reduce poverty has been the focus of allegations of fraud and money laundering. She denies any wrongdoing.
The affair has been followed closely in South Africa, which surrounds Lesotho and has intervened before to maintain stability. In 2014, Thabane claimed that a coup was being launched against him. He fled to South Africa but was soon returned to Lesotho by South African police.
Last month South Africa’s finance minister, Tito Mboweni, suggested Lesotho could become part of his country under a federal arrangement.