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Ethiopia: Corruption Watchdog Presses Charges Against Officials, Businessmen

Prosecutors at the Federal Ethics & Anti-Corruption Commission (FEACC) announced in court on Thursday, August 29, that they have filed charges against 44 people in the high profile corruption case. Melaku Fenta, former director general of the Ethiopian Revenues & Customs Authority (ERCA), and his then deputy, Gebrewahed W. Giorgis, are among those indicted. Charges are spread across eight different files.

Although the charges were expected to be read in the afternoon, this was rescheduled to Friday morning, August 30, 2013. This is because there was a question as to which bench is supposed to hear the case, according to sources at the Federal High Court. It was the remand bench that was informed that charges were filed this morning.

Fourteen days additional investigation time was requested, in order to process audit reports for four people. These were – Mehereteab Abraha, the businessman brother of TPLF veteran Seye Abraha; Fitsum Gebremedhin, a businessman; Tekleab Zerabruk, the ERCA’s Mille Branch manager, and Begziabhere Alebel, a major shareholder of Ultimate Plan Plc, a construction consulting company. Hence, no charges were brought. The remand bench granted the Commission seven days and adjourned the hearing for the four suspects until August 6, 2013.

The prosecutors have decided not to file charges against three people and the court ordered they be set free. Those to be released are – Mesale Woldeselassie and Negussie Kebret, from Tigabu Gidey et al file, and Getachew Assefa, from Temesgen Seyoum et al file. Moreover, prosecutors asked that Mule Gashaw, from Gebrewahed et al file, be transferred to the Oromia Ethics & Anti-Corruption Commission (OEACC) due to jurisdictional issues. Judges granted the prosecutors demand and ordered the transfer of Mulu within the next five days.

The arrest of some of the top taxmen in the country and their family members, along with close to 60 prominent and mid-level businessmen, customs officials and freight forwarders, which began in early May 2013, was the start of a long drawn-out investigation into corruption allegations.

The Commission has been investigating a mile-long list of alleged suspicions, including -the halting of investigations, goods passing through customs uninspected and having the books of the companies under investigation audited twice for undue benefits on the part of officials. Businessmen, on the other hand, are accused of alleged tax evasion through graft, the import of cement using the prohibited Franco Valuta method and selling duty-free imports meant for investment.

Except for the four suspects whose hearing has been adjourned until August 6, the seven investigation appointment files that the second criminal bench has been hearing for the past three months, have been closed. Those facing charges are now included in the eight new files, with some of the suspects appearing in more than one file. Gebrewahed W. Giorgis’s name appears in three of the charge files. The remand bench that closed the investigation files was preparing to hear the charges in the afternoon, before a change of plan. Those higher up in the court have decided that charges should be treated by a regular bench and not by the bench that heard the investigation files, sources at the court informed Fortune. However, since the regular session is closed, the court administration is expected to assign three judges for the charges tomorrow, Fortune also learnt.

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