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‘I have not quit’: Abrahams

Lesotho's widely read newspaper, published every Thursday and distributed throughout the country and in some parts of South Africa.

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Mohalenyane Phakela

SEVERAL high-profile trials remain suspended as the lead prosecutor, Shaun Abrahams, remains holed up in his native South Africa due to the government’s failure to pay him.

The defence lawyers who were hired by the government on a pro deo basis are also crying foul over the non-payment of their appearance fees.

However, Advocate Abrahams, who had remained tight-lipped over the matter since he stopped coming to court last month, finally spoke out this week. In a telephonic interview with the Lesotho Times, he dispelled reports that he had quit his job.

The top lawyer said he was currently negotiating with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hlalefang Motinyane.  He would return once “certain undertakings” had been made by the latter regarding his conditions of service.

“I ordinarily do not comment on professional matters between the Director of Public Prosecutions and myself,” Adv Abrahams said.

“However, I can unequivocally confirm that I’m still on the brief and I have not withdrawn from any of these matters.

“My team and I remain fully committed to the all-important responsibility entrusted to us of prosecuting these matters to finality. We fully understand and appreciate the importance of bringing finality to these cases, not only for the victims of the alleged crimes and their families, but also for the nation at large. It is also important for the accused and their families that that these matters are speedily concluded.

“However, my availability to continue prosecuting these matters is subject to ongoing discussions between the Director of Public Prosecutions and I. There have to be certain undertakings made by the DPP which I’m unable to divulge,” Adv Abrahams said.

The South African is the lead prosecutor in most of the high profile trials of politicians, serving and former members of the security agencies. The trials have been in limbo due to his no show since last month over the non-payment of his fees by the government.

Adv Abrahams failed to appear in court last month to prosecute the trial of 10 soldiers accused of murdering three civilians in May 2017. In this matter, former Military Intelligence (MI) boss, Brigadier Rapele Mphaki, is accused alongside Major Pitso Ramoepane, Sergeant Lekhooa Moepi, Captain Mahlehle Moeletsi, Lance Corporal Mahlomola Makhoali, Privates Nthatakane Motanyane, Motšoane Machai, Tieho Tikiso, Liphapang Sefako and Nemase Faso.

A local lawyer, Motene Rafoneke, who has been assisting Adv Abrahams, told the presiding judge, Moroke Mokhesi, that Adv Abrahams had requested a postponement as he had been unable to travel to Lesotho from his native South Africa due to the government’s failure to pay him.

Adv Rafoneke said he and others on the prosecution team have not been paid, forcing them to consider withholding services.

“The Crown is faced with some challenges which have been ongoing over a period of time now.

“The lead counsel (Abrahams) has not been paid for his brief. The matter is now being addressed at higher levels of government. The (payment) problems do not only affect him but the entire Crown team. He (Abrahams) has requested me to ask that the matter be stood down,” Adv Rafoneke said.

Adv Abrahams’ absence has also thrown into doubt four other trials that he is presiding over. These include the treason and murder trial of politicians Selibe Mochoboroane and Mothetjoa Metsing.

This is the second time the government has failed to pay Adv Abrahams. The first was in September 2021 when the South African lawyer, who is also a former director of that country’s National Prosecution Authority (NPA), quit after a prolonged period of non-payment.

He only returned to work in November that same year after his fees arrears, said to have amounted to around M10 million, had been cleared. But after clearing the arrears, the government has never kept up with paying his current fees, forcing him not to return to work last week.

Speaking on the matter in an interview with this publication three weeks ago, outgoing Law and Justice Minister, Lekhetho Rakuoane, said the government was broke and did not have the money to pay Advocate Abrahams and the rest of the prosecution team.

Adv Rakuoane said the cash-strapped government had diverted all its resources to funding the general elections which were held on 7 October. As a result, all payments to service providers, including Adv Abrahams and his team, could not be made. The new government, which is likely to be sworn in next week, would have to assume the responsibility of paying all service providers, Adv Rakuoane said.