Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane will not be charged with the 2017 murder of his former wife until a constitutional question is settled, a magistrate ruled Monday, after his lawyers sought immunity.
Police said they wanted to charge the prime minister with the murder of his former wife, Lipolelo Thabane, 58, who was killed outside her home in Lesotho's capital Maseru in 2017, two days before Thabane's inauguration. But Thabane, 80, made a surprise appearance in court Monday where his lawyer argued that his office granted him immunity from prosecution.
Thabane's lawyer Qhalehang Letsika argued Monday that a significant constitutional issue had to be resolved before charges were read because his client is a sitting prime minister.
His legal team convinced Magistrate Phethise Motanyane to refer the matter to the High Court, to serve as the Constitutional Court on the matter.
A hearing date has not been set yet.
Thabane's appearance in the court in Lesotho's capital Maseru with his present spouse was a surprise after he failed to appear for a court date Friday. His office said he was not trying to skip out on charges against him, but had to travel to neighboring South Africa for medical treatment.
Thabane remarried two months after Lipolelo Thabane's death. His current wife, Maesaiah Thabane, 42, the first lady of Lesotho, was charged with the murder of his previous wife earlier this month, but has not entered a plea yet and is out on bail.
Both have denied any wrongdoing.
"The prime minister is protected by the constitution although he is not above the law," the prime minister's spokesman, Thabo Thakalekoala said. "This whole exercise is just meant to embarrass him and nothing else."
Amid the case, Thabane has agreed to resign by the end of July, but several members of his All Basotho Convention party have urged him to leave even sooner to avoid a political crisis.
A letter from Lesotho's police chief emerged in January that claimed communication records showed someone at the murder scene called Thabane's mobile phone, which brought the case back into the limelight.
Police said eight other suspects linked to the case will be charged, but their names have not been made public.