Court report: Melaku Fenta et al corruption trial – first day

(Reported by Mikias Sebsibe – edited by Daniel Berhane)

* A total of 24 suspects are in custody
* They are subjects of the Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (FEACC) investigations in three separate files
* FEACC investigators have asked for 14 more days to finalize investigation
* Suspects want bail, object giving more time for investigation
* Court will reconvene tomorrow make rulings.Melaku Fanta - Director of Customs & Revenue Authority (Minister)

File 1

List of suspects include:

1. Melaku Fenta – Director General of Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority (ERCA),  represented by a lawyer

2. Merkineh Alemayehu – senior ERCA prosecutor who was in charge of major tax evasion, illegal banking, money laundering cases involving prominent businessmen including Ayat SC, Ayalew Debela (WB), Kebede Tezera, Gebrekidan (Morocco) and others.

3. Eshetu Woldesemayat – ERCA Director of Prosecution Directorate

4. Asmelash Woldemariam

5. Ketema Kebede – Owner of KK Trading Plc, two lawyers representing him

6. Semachew Kede – Owner of Intercontinental Hotel

7. Fikru Maru (MD) – he is/was CEO of Addis Cardiac Hospital

The ERCA officials are said to have sabotaged charges of tax evasion and illegal banking against the businessmen to be suspended/dropped. It appears the officials were bribed by the businessmen, although investigators haven’t disclosed that.

Melaku’s lawyer made a preliminary objection thatGebrewahid Weldegiorgis his client is an elected member of the Addis Ababa City Council and protected by immunity under the city’s charter (Article 12/4). He argued his client was illegally detained and should be released.

When asked to respond to the objected, FEACC investigators (note, they’re not prosecutors) said: “we had an arrest warrant from court” and added “the suspect himself made no mention of his immunity.”

To which Melaku’s lawyer responded “The court does not have the power to order the arrest of my client without the city council stripping him of his immunity first, which my client isn’t aware of”. His client’s lack of knowledge of his right doesn’t strip him of the immunity, he added.

File 2

Eleven suspects including:

1. Gebrewahid Woldegiorgis – ERCA deputy director general

2. Belachew Beyene

3. Tiruneh Berta

4. Tesfaye Abebe

5. Nega Gebreegiziabher – Owner of Netsa Plc.

6. Meheretab Abraha – Investor and brother of Seeye Abraha

7. Mule Gashaw

8. Amegne Tagele

9. Haimanot Tesfay (Col.) – wife of Gebrewahid

10. Habtom Gebremedhin – (Gebrewahid’s nephew?)

11. Nigisti Tesfay – Sister-in-law of Gebrewahid

Suspects no. 2-4 are ERCA officials with “close ties” to Gebrewahid

Charges:

* Allowing/enabling the importation of cement banned on franco valuta

* Suspending/dropping charges of tax evasion and illegal banking against the businessmen

* Unlawful enrichment/ possession of large sums of currency

* Concealing evidence

Col. Haimanot, wife of Gebrewahid, told the court that her son, who she said had no connection with the investigation, is arrested. She claimed her son, a university student, is missing out his education/exam. She asked the court to order his release or allow him to process withdrawal from his university. She also said: “we used to be part of the solution (givers), we should be given a solution” (Apparently referring to her contribution as a fighter of EPRDF during the armed struggle to topple the previous military regime)

Gebrewahid, who appears to have learnt of the arrest of his son in court, said: “I’m willing to accept my punishment if the court finds me guilty but because of me, my wife, my sister-in-law, my sister-in-law’s son are all arrested and now I’m hearing my son is arrested. What is going on? Where is this [country] heading to?”

File 3

The third file included six suspects in connection with Nazareth Customs Office. The list of suspects include Mohammed Isa, Semere Nigussie, Zerihun Zewede, Marshet Assefa, Muluken Tesfaye, Dagne Sinishaw.

Request time for further investigations

FEACC investigators asked the court for 14 more days to conduct further investigation while keeping the suspects under detention. “Due to the official positions the suspects had and the financial power they wield, bail should be denied,” FEACC investigators argued.

Suspects objected arguing that the investigators had enough time. They said the investigation, as publicly reported by FEACC, had been going on for months, their houses and offices had been searched and hence no need to extend the investigation.

Almost all suspects complained of being denied of their constitutional rights – in particular their rights to visitation by family members  lawyer and doctor. As a result, the court sent a stern message to investigators to respect the rights of the accused and said it inquire the matter further tomorrow.

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[Stay tuned]

Check the Melaku Fenta et al saga archive for previous posts.

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Daniel Berhane

Daniel Berhane