High Profile Corruption Case: Prosecutor’s Three-Month Extension Request Reduced to Just One
The case has been ongoing since last May and has seen many high profile names imprisoned throughout
Defence lawyers for top federal officials accused of corruption rested their case this week, and the court gave prosecutors one month to rebut the arguments.
The Federal High Court’s 15th Criminal Bench has adjourned the high-profile corruption charges against Melaku Fenta – former director general of the Ethiopian Revenues & Customs Authority (ERCA), and others, until March 18, 2014.
This decision came following the prosecutors’ request for more time to review the statement of defence.
Senior ERCA officials were accused of relaxing the inspection procedures for undue benefits, by using the mutually beneficial relationships they established with high profile businessmen. The charge specifically mentioned the personal connections of Nega G. Egziabhere of Netsa Trading Plc, and Gebrewahed W. Giorgis, the-then deputy to Melaku in the Law Enforcement Division of the ERCA, as well as Ketema Kebede of K.K Plc, with Melaku.
Melaku and Gebrewahed were also charged with violating a law that instituted impromptu inspections at the ERCA’s Adama Branch, after a study revealed that the customs clearance system in that branch was looser than Kaliti and thus preferred by alleged tax evaders. The study was conducted to investigate why the Kaliti Customs Office was producing low revenues. This, the charge says, has made corrupt practices prevalent.
Other charges were made, predominantly against customs officials from the ERCA’s Adama Branch and Modjo Dry Port and Terminal, freight-forwarders and their family members.
During the court session held on Monday, February 17, 2014, 12 defendants presented a statement of defence. They included Melaku; Gebrewahed; Belachew Beyene, former Audit Directorate director; Markneh Alemayehu, deputy prosecutor; Eshetu Giref of the Kality Branch of the ERCA;Haimanot Tesfay (Col.), Gebrewahad’s wife;Fitsum G. Medihn, a businessman; Amogne Tagele, former director of the ERCA’s Adama Branch Office;Tigabu Gidey, who used to work in the Tax Collection Department of the ERCA’s Adama Branch; Semere Nigusse, Customs Inspection officer at the Modjo Dry Port; Mareshet Tesfaye, of MD Transit Plc and Woldesellasie W. Michael, a senior national security advisor.
The Prosecutors from the Federal Ethics & Anti-Corruption Commission (FEACC), who requested a three month period to respond to bulky written objections filed by these and other defendants – totalling 66 charged under three separate files – drew murmurs of objection from the courtroom.
The prosecutors’ request was objected to by attorneys of the defendants, who argued that three months was too lengthy and would hamper the interests of their clients who remain in custody. The attorneys argued that the Commission, as an institution, could deploy more staff to review the statement of defence in a shorter period of time.
The Court reduced the prosecutors’ request to one month. It also allowed the attorneys of Ketema and K.K Plc to make corrections to the statement of defence they submitted during the previous session.
Fikru Maru (MD), who runs Addis Cardiac Hospital, was not present in the court due to illness.
In May 2013, a joint operation by law enforcement agencies made a round of arrests of senior government officials and prominent businessmen suspected of wrongdoings in relation to tax. During the lengthy investigation period, suspects have remained in custody without bail, except for those the Commission released itself. Most of the detainees have been kept at the Akaki (including Melaku and Gebrewahed) and Kilinto prison facilities.
By FASIKA TADESSE
FORTUNE STAFF WRITER
Published on February 23, 2014 [ Vol 14 ,No 721]