Lesotho’s Prime Minister Thomas Thabane skipped the country for a medical check up in South Africa on the day he was supposed to show up in court Friday to face charges of murdering his former wife, his office said.
Lipolelo Thabane was killed outside her home in the capital Maseru just days before the Prime Minister’s inauguration in June 2017.
A statement from his office confirmed that the Prime Minister had traveled to South Africa early Friday morning for “urgent medical attention.”
“The reason we are making this press statement is to put down the rumours that the Prime Minister didn’t wish to appear in court,” the statement said.
Thabane was expected to appear in court Friday where police intended to charge him with the murder of his former wife and the attempted murder of her friend.
His office added that he would appear in court once his medical treatment is completed.
However one of his senior aides told CNN Friday that Thabane was healthy and “ready to fight” murder charges against him on the eve of his court appearance.
The aide, who regularly communicates with Thabane, told CNN he was surprised by the ‘no-show.’
“Up until the last minute he was planning to go to court and we had organized supporters to be there with him. He was fired up,” said the senior aide. “He was fit and healthy.”
“He should have gone to court. He is supposed to be the custodian of the law,” the aide said. “There is a power struggle going on at the highest levels of government and civil service.”
The medical visit to South Africa caught even the Prime Minister’s own lawyers by surprise. Earlier on Friday, a senior police official told CNN that they were also expecting him in court Friday morning, as were the Prime Minister’s lawyers.
“We do have a strong case against him,” Paleka Mokete, the Deputy Commissioner of Police told CNN. “Most people in Lesotho have been shocked by this case, even police in Lesotho.”
A gripping tale
The current first lady, Maesaiah Thabane, has already been charged with the former first lady’s murder in a previous court appearance.
After weeks in hiding in South Africa, allegedly helped by a recently appointed spokesman who snuck her away in a government-issue car, Thabane crossed back into Lesotho last Tuesday, passing a phalanx of security forces, and promptly handed herself over to special police.
Maesaiah Thabane was taken into custody.
She has yet to submit a plea to the charges against her. The first lady’s legal team have so far not responded to phone calls and text messages from CNN over several days.
Police say that eight other suspects will be charged over their links to the case, although their names have yet to be made public.
The shocking details of the case have gripped this country of fewer than 2 million people, which is entirely surrounded by South Africa, forced the Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to promise his resignation and opened the lid on the murky power politics that have long dominated Lesotho’s culture.
Additional Reporting by Rapelang Radebe