Addis Fortune /Addis Ababa
Melaku, former director general of the Ethiopian Revenues & Customs Authority (ERCA) and Gebrewahed W. Giorgis, the-then deputy to Melaku in the law enforcement division, have passed orders for the imports by some companies to get an inspection clearance without actually being inspected and thus avoid paying appropriate customs duties, reads the indictment presented today at the Federal High Court by the Federal Ethics & Anti-Corruption Commission (FEACC).
This is the first of eight indictment files against the high-profile government officials and businessmen that the Commission started detaining in May 2013.
The 84-page file, which was heard at the Federal High Court 15th criminal bench, named 31 defendants and included 26 corruption charges. Melaku, Gebrewahed, and Amogne Tagele, director of ERCA’s Adama Branch Office, were included in the file.
So were some of the big names in business, including Nega G. Egziabhere of Netsa Trading Plc, Ketema Kebede, of K.K. Plc, Getu Gelete, of Get-As International, and Gebreselassie H. Mariam, of Comet Trading Plc. Barring Amogne, only one of the 26 charges was levied directly against these big names.
Senior ERCA officials were accused of relaxing the inspection procedures for undue benefits, by using the mutually beneficial relationship they established with these businessmen. The charge specifically mentioned the personal connections of Nega and Gebrewahed, as well as Ketema with Melaku.
Other big name companies whose goods get inspection clearance with only invoices as proof rather than actual inspections, include PETRAM Plc, Nyala Motors S.C., Al-Sam Plc, Metals & Engineering Corporation (MetEC), Salini Construction, and Total Ethiopia, according to the indictment file. Most of these companies were declared by ERCA as Authorised Economic Operators (AEO), which can get preferential treatment in the customs process, including shorter clearance time, as an incentive to tax-compliant customers. The charge however states that these were companies selected by Melaku himself and that the system has created a convenient atmosphere for further corruption and fraud.
The charge also accuses Melaku and Gebrewahed of contravening a law that instituted impromptu inspections at ERCA’s Adama Branch, after a study revealed that the customs clearance system in Adama was looser than Kaliti and thus preferred by alleged tax evaders. The study was conducted to investigate why the Kaliti customs was gaining such low revenues. This has also led for corrupt practices to take root, the charge reads.
The remaining 22 charges were made against mostly customs officials from ERCA’s Adama Branch and Modjo Dry Port and Terminal, freight-forwarders and their family members. Federal judges Berihu Tewoldeberhan and Mulugeta Kidane alternated in reading the charges – a process that took the whole day after the court session started at half past 10 in the morning.
Due to time constraints, pleas by oral arguments were rescheduled for tomorrow. So was the hearing for two other indictment files, which include 18 and 17 people respectively. Melaku and Gebrewahed are included in both these files; they are named in three of the eight indictment files that the Commission has registered in court. In the file that includes 17 people, other high-profile businessmen including Fikru Maru (MD), who runs Addis Cardiac Hospital, and Simachew Kebede of Addis InterContinental Hotel, as well as Ketema and Nega, are named.