Thursday, October 22, 2020

Suspended judges about to face criminal charges

Plans are moving apace at the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to charge the four suspended judges of the High Court with criminal offences, The Telegraph has learnt.

This comes after the Botswana Police Service completed investigations following a formal complaint by Chief Justice that the four; Key Dingake, Modiri Letsididi, Mercy Garekwe and Ranier Busang had received housing allowances that were not due to them.

If the four face criminal charges, as it now looks more likely, it will put paid to ongoing parallel efforts that have been going on behind the scenes to bring a settlement.

The four judges are in a separate matter expected to appear before a tribunal that is expected to determine if the quartet are fit to hold office following a fallout with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) as represented by Chief Justice Maruping Dibotlelo.

It was after that fallout that President Ian Khama suspended the four judges and appointed a tribunal.

But the sitting of the Tribunal has not happened as there are still legal disputes that are before the courts, questioning its legality.

Following a decision by the Chief Justice, representing the JSC  to report them to the police, the four judges hit back by saying the matter was internal and there was no need for Justice Dibotelo to have taken it to the police.

Between them, the four judges are said to have received close to P1 million that was not due to them.

“We are in receipt of your letter with respect to the above matter, which you wrote ostensibly in your capacity as Chief Justice and Chairman of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

“We are alarmed that a matter as internal as housing allowance, whose continued receipt at the instance of the Administration of Justice (AoJ) was never raised with us at any point, has become a criminal matter that you have referred to the police for investigation,” wrote the four judges. They further wrote: “The full import of your letter or complaint to the police is that the judges, of which you are merely the first amongst equals, have in your eyes, and by extension the Judicial Service Commission, committed a criminal offence. This is the most degrading and gravest of accusations a Chief Justice can level at his colleagues.

“In our respective view, in the nature of the complaint, there is nothing for the police to investigate because, whether or not the housing allowance was paid to us, it is a matter in which the AoJ can easily confirm with the payroll section and an arrangement can be made with the affected judges to pay back the agreed amounts.

“We do hereby confirm to you that unbeknown to us, and without our consent, such allowance was paid to us. We are as a matter of fact willing to pay back the aforesaid amounts.”

In their view, it was the primary responsibility of the AoJ or its accounting officer, of which the CJ is not one, to stop the housing allowance once a judge is allocated an official residence.

“It is a matter of record that some of the colleagues you are now accusing alerted the AoJ of this lapse and no action was taken. It is further a matter of record that we are not the only judges to whom housing or other allowances have been paid by the AoJ inadvertently when they were not entitled to same.

“In this context, your selective approach which is highly questionable, amounts to harassment and witch-hunting.”

“We are of the view that there was no basis upon which to proceed in the manner you did other than being actuated by the crudest and most glaring form of malice to ‘destroy careers’ of some including those ‘who want to replace you as Chief Justice’ as you recently declared publicly”. The judges said in their view the matter was purely administrative and was not worth b eing handed over to police.

But The Telegraph has learnt that once at the police, the matter received the direct attention of Police Commissioner, who immediately put together a team of crack investigators at the very highest levels of the service.

Investigations were duly completed within an unprecedented short time before the docket was handed to DPP.

The Telegraph has further learnt that DPP has now taken a decision to prosecute.

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