Lesotho’s prosecuting authority has dropped murder charges against the kingdom’s former prime minister Tom Thabane and his wife Maesiah, over the killing of the former’s estranged wife Lipolelo Thabane.
“We have been unable to trace an important witness in this matter and the director of public prosecutions has decided to withdraw the charges against the accused,” prosecutor Gareth Lappan told the court.
The duo were charged with the murder of Lipolelo Thabane, who was shot dead near her home in the capital Maseru days before he was sworn in as premier in June 2017.
The estranged couple were at the time embroiled in a bitter divorce battle that meant Lipolelo would have been the official "First Lady", a situation that allegedly upset Maesiah.
The killing set off a political crisis in the mountain kingdom landlocked within South Africa. The high-profile case garnered widespread attention, ultimately leading to Thabane's resignation as prime minister due to political pressure in 2020.
Thabane was charged in November 2021 alongside Maesiah, who had become his wife just months after the inauguration, and four other suspects. Police believed the pair paid hitmen who called Thabane’s cellphone from the scene around the time of the shooting. However, they have both maintained their innocence.
Police accused Thabane of paying assassins a down payment of $24,000 to kill his ex-wife. Five co-defendants in the trial included 45-year-old Maesaiah, who was controversially granted bail in June 2020, and the four suspected hitmen allegedly hired by Thabane.
One of the key witnesses, Rethabile Mokete, a well-known traditional musician died from a suspected Covid-19 in Bloemfontein in January 2021. He was instrumental in the formation of Thabane’s political party All Basotho Convention (ABC) in 2006, but later defected to the Democratic Congress (DC).
Mokete had claimed that Thabane and party leaders had failed to reward him for his "sacrifices" and threatened to "air dirty laundry" about the secrets of Maesiah Thabane and former police and public security minister ’Mampho Mokhele.
Lesotho says it will hold its general elections on October 7, in the latest round of polling in the country. The date was contained in a notice dated July 19 and signed by the head of the country's electoral commission, Mpaiphele Maqutu.
The mountainous kingdom of 2 million people entirely surrounded by South Africa, Lesotho has suffered repeated bouts of instability and army interference in politics.