Lesotho’s prime minister Thomas Thabane has denied reports that he has fled the country, insisting he is in South Africa for a medical visit.
Thabane was expected in court on Friday where he was to be charged with murder in the killing of his estranged wife.
Thabane’s current wife, Maesaiah, also has been charged with murder in the 2017 death of Lipolelo Thabane. She had briefly fled the kingdom for South Africa, avoiding a police summons.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Paseka Mokete, who led the investigation, said he had heard rumors that the 80-year-old prime minister had gone to South Africa for a medical check-up.
“I have spoken to Thabane’s lawyer and he told me he is not aware of the prime minister’s whereabouts,” Mokete said.
“We are now waiting for him to return so that he can be charged.”
It would be premature to seek an arrest warrant for the prime minister as police did when Maesaiah Thabane refused to honor a police summons last month, Mokete said.
Thabane’s personal secretary Thabo Thakalekoala told AFP that the prime minister was not attending court because he had gone to South Africa for a “routine” medical exam.
But in a statement later the premier’s office said he left in the early hours “to seek emergency medical attention”.
“The office refutes allegations that the honourable PM fled the country to frustrate delivery of justice,” the statement said.
It said Thabane “will appear in court immediately after returning to the country as he had indicated before that he respects the courts”.
On Thursday, Mokete confirmed to The Associated Press that the prime minister would appear at Maseru Magistrates Court to face a murder charge and an attempted murder charge in connection with a shooting of a friend of Lipolelo Thabane.
Thomas Thabane is the first sitting prime minister in Lesotho to be charged with any crime. He has announced he would step down by the end of July, if not sooner, amid pressure from the ruling party, which says he is no longer fit to rule.
Lipolelo had been estranged from Thabane, who had filed for divorce when she was shot dead near her Maseru home on the night of June 14, 2017. Her friend, Thato Sibolla, who was travelling with her in the car, escaped with gunshot wounds and has since fled to South Africa in fear for her life.
The attack occurred just two days before Thabane was sworn in for his second stint as prime minister.
Maesaiah Thabane, who also is charged with attempted murder, is out on bail and will appear in court on March 17.
Scores of people, including politicians from Thabane’s party, thronged the court Friday to witness proceedings but were left disappointed.