Lesotho court to decide whether PM can face murder charge

Lesotho court to decide whether PM can face murder charge
Investigating officer and Lesotho's Deputy Commissioner of Police Paseka Mokete, center, stands with security outside the court in Maseru, Lesotho, Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. Lesotho's Prime Minister Thomas Thabane failed to show up in court to be charged with murder in the killing of his estranged wife. (AP Photo)

MASERU, Lesotho (AP) — Lesotho’s prime minister appeared in court Monday but the murder case against him failed to proceed as the magistrate referred the matter to the Constitutional Court to decide whether a sitting prime minister can be charged with any crime.

Prime Minister Thomas Thabane’s legal team argued against him being charged.

The 80-year-old leader is accused of murder in the 2017 killing of his estranged wife, Lipolelo. His current wife, Maesaiah, already has been charged after briefly fleeing to neighboring South Africa. Last week the prime minister himself left for South Africa for what his lawyer called medical reasons, missing a court appearance.

Monday was his Thabane’s first public appearance since then, and it came as a surprise to many in the southern African kingdom.

His legal team argued that the defense team’s application for referral to the Constitutional Court was premature because Thabane has not yet been charged. The defense said the prime minister’s mere appearance in court was enough of a reason.

“I must admit from the outset that this is indeed a novel case in our country whose determination we eagerly await,” Magistrate Phetise Motanyane said.

It was not immediate clear when the Constitutional Court will hear the matter.

If the court decides that a sitting prime minister cannot be charged, the prosecution will have to wait at least until July 31, the date when Thabane has said he will retire. He has been under pressure from his ruling party to step down.

Thabane’s current wife is out on bail. The couple sat together Monday in the gallery during arguments.