MASERU (Reuters) – The wife of Lesotho’s prime minister was freed on bail overnight ahead of her trial for the murder of his previous wife, her lawyer said on Thursday, and police said they feared she could flee justice if allowed to travel abroad for medical reasons.
Maesaiah Thabane, wife of Lesotho’s Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, appears in court charged with murdering his previous wife two days before he took office in 2017, in Maseru, Lesotho, February 5, 2020. REUTERS/Marafeale Mohloboli
Maesaiah Thabane was detained and charged this week for the murder of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s estranged wife Lipolelo, who was shot dead near her home in Lesotho’s capital, Maseru, on June 14, 2017, aged 58.
Maesaiah Thabane, who is now 42, denies any guilt in the case. The prime minister has yet to speak about it publicly.
Thomas Thabane, now 80, took office two days after the killing, then married Maesaiah two months later.
The case has stunned citizens of Lesotho, an independent kingdom lying in the middle of a South African mountain range.
The trial is scheduled for Feb. 18, but her lawyer Rethabile Setlojoane said Maesaiah Thabane would travel to South Africa on Thursday for a medical examination.
“My client is entitled to bail. She is still innocent until proven guilty by the courts of law. She is not a flight risk,” Setlojoane told Reuters by phone.
Setlojoane said she would not comment on the allegations against her client as she had yet to enter a plea.
The deputy police commissioner, Paseka Mokete, said police feared the suspect could now evade justice.
“Had we been allowed to oppose the bail, we would have raised the possibility of her escape,” he told Reuters, noting she had disappeared when police first tried to question her.
“We are of the view that should she skip the country, it will be very easy for her (to escape),” he said, adding that if she failed to turn up police would seek assistance from South African authorities to seize her.
In a sign the murder case could drag in other political figures, on Thursday police arrested the prime minister’s spokesman Relebohile Moyeye on suspicion of helping Maesaiah to evade police questioning and go to South Africa last month.
Thomas Thabane was going through an acrimonious divorce with Lipolelo at the time of her killing. [nL8N29L4BT]
Mokete said police believe Maesaiah Thabane had hired eight assassins to kill Lipolelo and had not actually been present at the shooting herself.
Mokete said police had tried in December to question the prime minister after it was found that his phone had been used to call one of the assassins shortly after the killing.
“We are yet to determine whether or not he is a suspect,” Mokete said.
Writing and additional reporting by Tim Cocks in Johannesburg; Editing by Gareth Jones and Peter Graff