Lesotho claims an Ethiopian is smuggling illegal immigrants into South Africa
A confidential Lesotho government report has painted a lurid picture of a secret network – headed by a wanted Ethiopian – which is allegedly smuggling illegal Chinese, Ethiopians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis through Lesotho into South Africa.
The report, written by a former Lesotho government secretary, Tlohang Sekhamane, in March last year, also claims that “there is not a scintilla of doubt” that the network has paid off powerful and well-placed figures in the Lesotho and South African governments.
However, the Ethiopian allegedly running the scam, 34-year-old Eyob Asemie, strongly denies the accusations, claiming that he is being punished for blowing the whistle on other human-trafficking scams.
Leaked to the Lesotho Times, the report flowed from a special commission set up to investigate Asemie, who has been declared a wanted man by the Lesotho police.
He crossed into South Africa in October last year after his passport was revoked by the Lesotho home affairs department and was later refused re-entry to the kingdom.
He had just lost an appeal case in which he asked Lesotho’s Home Affairs Minister, Joang Molapo, to abide by a High Court order granting him Lesotho citizenship.
The Lesotho government accused Asemie of acquiring his Lesotho passport fraudulently while masquerading as a refugee and sent notices to all border posts and diplomatic missions abroad informing them that it is no longer valid.
Dubious travel documents
He is now stranded in South Africa while he waits for the Lesotho High Court to hear an urgent appeal against the withdrawal of his passport.
Sekhamane, now an MP, told the former deputy prime minister Lesao Lehohla in March last year that the Lesotho National Security Services had tailed Asemie and strongly suspected that he was trafficking illegals into South Africa.
In the letter, quoted by the newspaper, Sekhamane said that Asemie fetched Ethiopians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis from Moshoeshoe I International Airport and claimed he was taking them to Meloding, a guest house. The house turned out to be Asemie’s residence.
One plane, chartered in Maputo, arrived in August 2011 with 26 Chinese nationals on board. Allegedly they were in possession of dubious travel documents and were forced to fly back to Mozambique. The report links them to Asemie.
Two Ethiopians were also intercepted at Moshoeshoe I International Airport with suspect travel documents. They were searched and allegedly were found to have a copy of Asemie’s passport.
“The implication here is that he was to assist them [to] gain entry to Lesotho, possibly on their way to South Africa, as on their interrogation it was found that their final destination was Limpopo,” the report stated.
Facilitation of entry
“It is now beyond the shadow of doubt that Mr Asemie’s source of income is facilitation of entry into Lesotho through Moshoeshoe I International Airport of Bangladeshi and Pakistani nationals and [he] then assists them to proceed to the Republic of South Africa.
“He obviously charges these people for the service and it is arguable that he is at the service of some powerful forces inside and outside Lesotho,” the report stated.
It claimed that, to conceal his activities, Asemie used fronts, including restaurants.
“If he is not travelling by air, he is always crossing the border using various border posts (Maseru, Van Rooyen’s, etc) either on foot or using different cars at different times. He has thus attracted the attention of law-enforcement agencies of other countries.”
The task team recommended that he “should be made to leave this kingdom at the earliest opportunity”.
It is not known why the Lesotho authorities have not charged him, despite being challenged by the Lesotho ombudsman, Matsoana Fanana, and High Court Judge Maseforo Mahase to do so.
Lehohla refused to discuss Sekhamane’s report because, he said, it contained government secrets.
“[...] we failed to prove his guilt but, because of the seriousness of the accusations against him, we had to suspend his swearing-in as a citizen to give time for further investigations,” Lehohla said.
Interviewed in Pretoria last week, Asemie denied any involvement in the smuggling ring.
“This is a personal fight with some individual government officials and it need not involve the state as a whole. I have not run away from Lesotho and I want them to open the borders so that I can challenge their decision in court.