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Senior Tax Officials Plead Not Guilty in Corruption Case

Melaku-Fenta-and-Gebrewahid-WoldegiorgisSenior tax officials, Melaku Fenta, former director general of the Ethiopian Revenues & Customs Authority (ERCA), and his deputy Gebrewahed Woldegiorgis, pleaded not guilty for all counts in the corruption charge by prosecutors of the Federal Ethics & Anti Corruption Commission (FEACC). The Court will begin hearing the testimony of prosecutors’ witnesses on July 8, 2014.
The other 30 defendants under the two separate files pleaded not guilty during the last court session, held on June 20, 2014. But, the plea of Melaku and Gebrewahed was postponed to last Wednesday, June 25, 2014, for they asked for additional time to make a plea. Melaku was granted additional days because one of his lawyers was not present to discuss; Gebrewahed got further time because he reasoned the charge counts on him are many and thus he needs more time to review them before pleading.
On Wednesday, Melaku pleaded on 10 charges; whereas Gebrewahed pleaded on 22 charge counts against him. Both pleaded not guilty for all counts.
Melaku defends the charge, stating that he is charged for an act which is not crime, he did not charge anyone illegally, he terminated charges using his lawful power, and the evidence presented by the prosecutors about his property are false. He also stated that he only has a 175sqm plot of land he obtained legally from the government.
Gebrewahed stated the same reasons for pleading not guilty for all 22 counts. He claimed for the existence of confusion from the prosecutors about the number of deputies at the ERCA, They took him as the only deputy director, while there are also additional deputy directors. He also mentioned that some of the charges have no factual grounds. While admitting his possession of weapons and ammunitions, he stated that as he and his wife are veteran militants, they should not be accused of it.
The Court has been hearing the charge on 66 defendants in three separate files since September 2013, after the commission arrested the individuals, including senior government officials, businessmen, commission agents and brokers, in May 2013. The commission’s accusations range from maladministration, appropriation and misappropriation in the discharge of duties, possession of property not commensurate with official income to control of arms and ammunitions.
The Court ordered the prosecutors of the Commission to make amendments in the three files a month ago. The reasons for the amendment by the judges were that the charge failed to indicate a specific date and time when the alleged acts of corruption were committed and individuals with different alleged crimes were charged under the same file. Additionally, witnesses were listed in the same file without indicating for which particular charge they are to testify for.
On June 10, the prosecutors submitted the amended charges under two of the files, but failed to bring the amendments to the third file and the judges ordered them to present it on June 20. But on that day, the prosecutors came up with an order from the Federal Supreme Court instructing the lower court to hold its ruling to break down the third file into separate files until June 30, 2014.
The order was due to the appeal by the prosecutors against the order of the High Court to break down the third file under separate files. A hearing of the appeal was conducted at the Supreme Court on Thursday, June 26, 2014, the ruling of which it adjourned until June 30, 2014. Consequently, on Friday, judges at the High Court postponed the ruling on the third file until July 4, 2104, to wait for the ruling of Supreme Court.
The presiding Judges of the 15th criminal bench, Berihu Woldeberihan, Shemsu Sirgaga and Gizachew Miteke, received medical approval from Zewditu Hospital, which explains that Ketema Kebede of K.K Plc can attend the Court session on Friday, though he was not present on the day. The judges will hear his case at their office in his presence.
The judges also ordered the Addis Abeba Prison Administration (AAPA) to bring only the defendants whose witnesses are going to be heard on the date of the adjournment. The judges ordered its administration to assign defence attorneys for Yadessa Mideksa and Assfaw Wosen, who told the Court that they are unable to hire attorneys due to the blocking of their properties by the government after they were charged.
Melaku and Gebrewahed were emotional during the pleading process, while they were explaining to the Court that they did not commit any of the criminal acts listed in the charge. Gebrewahed blames the Ethiopian Radio & Television Agency (ERTA), for disseminating wrong information about him. The court warned him not to repeat such kinds of claim.
Source: addisfortune

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