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Leikun Berhanu, former Governor of the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE), and more markedly founding president of Awash International Bank, began serving earlier this week his 15 month jail sentence. Leikun was convicted over foreign exchange mismanagement offense.
Leikun was re-arrested this week after his appeal was thrown out by the 11th criminal appellate bench, Lideta Division. He had initially being arraigned with eight other defendants Mitiku Abishaw, Tadese Ashagre, Wongelawit Birehane Selam, Getahun Alamar, Endale Tumi, Elsabeth Abate, Dereje Abebe and Cherenet Wakakena.
The banking industry veteran was found guilty for his purported role in the breach of NBE’s directive on foreign currency management, with holding in reserve of USD 25 million between December 2009 and January 2010 which is in excess of the legal limit stated in the directive.
NBE’s directive states that banks are not permitted to hold foreign currency in excess of 15 percent of their total capital. The prosecution’s charge proved to the court that Leikun did not execute his responsibility properly as president of the bank.
The prosecution’s witnesses testified that the defendants approved the disbursal of foreign exchange amounting to USD 6.1 million to selected individuals, though there were several other customers who had applied for foreign currency and did not get the service.
One of the other defendants, Mitiku Abeshu, former special advisor and the then Vice President for International Banking Operations was charged with extending preferential treatment to selected customers who wished to acquire foreign exchange.
The charge read that Mitiku formed a committee which approved the provision of foreign exchange for individuals of his preference.
Cherenet Wakjira had already been sentenced on August 23, 2011 to one year and three months prison term and 10,000 birr fines by the Arada Federal First Instance Court’s Sixth Criminal Bench.
The court later commuted the prison terms of Leikun together with Mitiku Abishaw and Cherenet Wakjira to one year and three months of imprisonment and a 10,000 birr fine each.
Endale Tuni, former loan division administrator; Wongelawit Berhanesellase, former head cashier; Tadesse Ashagre and Getahun Alamer, former branch managers; as well as Derege Abebe, a former employee; were sentenced to two years and two months of prison time and 15,000 birr fines on the August 23, 2011 court session.