'Soft landing' for disgraced judge Ramodibedi

Former chief justice Michael Ramodibedi. (The Nation)

Former chief justice Michael Ramodibedi. (The Nation)

Rumours are flying in Lesotho that disgraced judge Michael Ramodibedi – considered a close ally of Lesotho’s new Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosilili – could be reinstated as the country’s Court of Appeal president.

However, Lesotho’s legal fraternity indicated this week that it would resist any move to reinstate him after his dismissal as Swaziland’s chief justice last month and earlier moves to impeach him as the head of Lesotho’s apex court.

King Mswati, his former promoter and protector, dismissed him on the recommendation of Swaziland’s Judicial Service Commission.

He allegedly faced charges after an investigation by the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission.

Ramodibedi was allowed to leave Swaziland after the charges were dropped. He is now thought to be living in Ladybrand in the Free State, just across the Lesotho border.

‘Soft landing’
Speculation about his possible reinstatement as the head of Lesotho’s Appeal Court was fuelled by Lesotho foreign minister Tlohang Sekhamane’s extraordinary statement last week that “despite all the sensational headlines about Judge Ramodibedi having been fired in Swaziland”, there had been “a soft landing for that powerful Mosotho judge who, despite this saga, has made us proud by flying the Lesotho flag high with his legal practice experience abroad”.

Sekhamane is said to have intervened to have charges dropped against Ramodibedi in Swaziland.

As the Swazi chief justice from 2011, Ramodibedi was at the centre of repeated controversies, including a protest strike by Swazi lawyers and the jailing of the country’s most respected editor.

In his own country, he resigned his judicial position in an apparent move to stave off an impeachment process driven by former premier Tom Thabane over his alleged maladministration and abuse of office.

Lesotho’s new seven-party coalition government, headed by Mosisili, has good reason for wanting a sympathetic leader of the judiciary. It may be facing a slew of court cases, particularly relating to the killing of former defence force head Maaparankoe Mahao.

Legal experts in Lesotho, who spoke anonymously, alleged that some of Lesotho’s coalition government partners had been trying to find ways of creating a vacancy in the Court of Appeal for Ramodibedi to fill.

However, it had been pointed out to them that the court’s current president, Kananelo Mosito, was innocent of any misconduct warranting removal and that his position is protected by the Constitution.

The president of the Lesotho Law Society, Shale Shale, told amaBhungane that the society would have reservations about any move to reinstate Ramodibedi.

‘Convincing reasons’
Shale was, however, quick to say there had been no formal communication from government indicating such intentions.

“We have only heard rumours about his possible return, but it is not clear exactly what position he would assume, Appeal Court president or Chief Justice.

“We will have to wait to see what transpires, as there are substantive people in those positions. The Law Society would need convincing reasons for [Ramodibedi’s] reappointment, as he has issues that have tainted his image, including maladministration of funds and an alleged insurance fraud case.

“We are aware of other charges he was facing in Swaziland. We would not want someone with such a record at the helm of the judiciary and would protest against his appointment.”

Current appeal court head Kananelo Mosito said: “Nothing has come my way to give me any impression about [Ramodibdi’s] reinstatement; I don’t know anything.”

Sekhamane told Lesotho’s Sunday Express that the decision to allow Ramodibedi safe passage out of Swaziland without being charged followed “cordial” talks and correspondence between Mswati and Lesotho’s King Letsie.

He suggested that Mosisili’s government had prompted the contact between the two monarchs, saying it was “pursuant to the government of Lesotho”.

“Because of the cordial relations between the two kings and, of course, governments,  King Mswati III accordingly relieved Judge Ramodibedi of his position as the Swazi Chief Justice and the charges which he faced were also dropped.”

Contacted for comment, Lesotho’s Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Kimetso Mathaba defended his government’s decision to broker Ramodibedi’s safe passage home saying all it had done was to “ensure his safe return”.

He said he knew of claims that he is to be reappointed to the Lesotho judiciary, but that that the coalition government had not even discussed the issue.

Numerous attempts to get hold of Ramodibedi were fruitless, as his cellphone went unanswered.

The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.



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