Monday, October 26, 2020

Ruined lawyer sues state for P3 million

A prominent Gaborone lawyer whose successful practice was ruined by police officers’ alleged incompetence is suing the state for more than P 3 million.
Motshegetsi Masoba has spent the last ten years with unresolved criminal charges hanging over his head, ranting over the ruins of his once successful practice because police officers investigating criminal charges against him would not give him back his books of account that he needed to prepare an audit in order to get a practicing certificate ÔÇô court records revealed.

The court records chart the tragic rise and fall of a successful lawyer who, one moment, was the nameplate on the door of a thriving law firm with a six figure trust account and, the next moment, a disgraced entry on a police criminal charge sheet of a case that has not been resolved since 1997.

It is a story with implausible characters and plot twists. There is the alleged scheming investigator who has been sitting on the law firm’s books of accounts for ten years and hid crucial information from the courts, an auditor who combed the law firm’s books of accounts for 21 days and found no incriminating evidence. There is a criminal case that the police seem unable to crack. Then there is a no show prosecutor who allegedly had very little information to run with and thus kept away from court and, at the heart of it all there is Motshegetsi Masoba.

How the criminal case went awry and landed government in the P 3 million plus law suit may come to be judged as one embarrassing state blunder.

According to court records, around April 2007 deputy sheriff, Tlhako Matlhasedi, locked up Masoba’s law firm and placed it under judicial management.

“I was, therefore, prevented from having access to my office with the result that certain of my clients ended up making complaints against me to the Law Society,” states Masoba in his affidavit.

Following the complaints, the Law Society made an application to the High Court. The result of the court application was that Mr. Richard Mazobwe, of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, was appointed to take over and administer the law firms trust account. In terms of the court order, Mazobwe was to report to the law society and the Master of the High Court within 21 days. He prepared a report declaring that he was “not in a position to determine whether the trust account was properly conducted and administered.” This was not the smoking gun that investigating officers were looking for.

The investigating officer, Inspector Tshweneetsile, however, seized the law firm’s ledgers, day books, waste sheets and other accounting devices from PriceWaterhouseCoppers and registered a criminal case against Masoba.

Masoba, who was hoping to get his practice back on track, would spend the next nine years chasing the holly grail, going in and out of court and each time told that the prosecutor did not show up, shuttling between the High Court room and the Registrar’s office to get a practicing certificate only to be told to submit audited accounts first. He later found himself chasing after the investigating officer who had seized the law firm’s account books that Masoba needed to prepare an audit, all in vain.
Nothing came out of the criminal case as the state failed to prosecute. The then presiding magistrate, Otsweletse Moupo, dismissed the case because the prosecutor never turned up.

With the case dismissed, Masoba demanded the return of his office documents that had been seized from PriceWaterhouseCoppers by Tshweneetsile.

“At the time my intention was to apply for my practicing certificate as I realized that the Respondent was not intent upon finishing its case within reasonable time.”

I then contacted the Registrar of the High Court only to realize that my name had been removed from the roll of practicing attorneys…

“I launched an application to the High Court and it was ordered that my name be restored to the roll and a fidelity fund certificate be issued. Armed with the certificate, I then applied for a practicing certificate. The registrar of the High Court turned this application down on account of the fact that I had not filed audited accounts… I had a problem filing these audited accounts because Tshweneetsile refused to release the books.”

Masoba’s lawyer, Gabriel Kanjabanga, then wrote to PriceWaterhouseCoppers demanding the books of accounts.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers, however, wrote back explaining that Tshweneetsile had collected all records of the law firm.
In his affidavit, Masoba further states, “I wish to draw this court’s attention to the fact that in terms of the court warrant dated 22nd October 1997, Tshweneetsile was only authorized to inspect such books. His seizure of the books and continued custody of same is, therefore, wrongful and unlawful and has occasioned loss of earnings to me.”
In 1999, the state re-registered the case. The case was never resolved because the state failed to turn up on most occasions.

Masoba has thus filed a case with the High Court in Lobatse for an order that the case be permanently stayed because it has dragged on for too long, and that the delay has resulted in him suffering damages to the tune of P1 million;
That the seizure of his books of accounts by the investigating officer was wrongful and unlawful, and the state should be ordered to forthwith return his books of account;
That, as a result of such seizure, he has suffered past loss of earning from March 2000 (date of demand of books) to 30th June 2007 in the sum of P2 428 927.87 and that he will suffer future loss of earning at rate of P37 432.89 a months from 1st July 2007 to date that such books are returned, such amount to be factorized on an annual basis of a 10% increment.

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