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The long court saga of Leikun Berhanu former President of Awash International Bank (AIB) and his associates finally came to an end after the Federal Supreme Court Cassation Bench ruled against their appeal reaffirming a lower court’s verdict against him and his former advisor Mitiku Abeshu on July 11, 2012.
Leikun was convicted over a foreign exchange mismanagement offense. Leikun and Mitiku had been appealing the sentence on bail before their arrest in March 2012. Leikun Berhanu, former Governor of the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE), and more markedly founding president of AIB, began serving his 15 month jail sentence in early March.
He had initially been arraigned more than a year ago with eight other defendants Mitiku Abishaw, Tadese Ashagre, Wongelawit Birehane Selam, Getahun Alamar, Endale Tumi, Elsabeth Abate, Dereje Abebe and Cherenet Wakakena.
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 certain 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.
The banking industry veteran was found guilty for his purported role in the breach of NBE’s directive on foreign asset 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 asset in excess of 15 percent of their total capital. The prosecution’s charge proved to the court that Leikun did not execute his responsibility 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.
Cherenet Wakjira had already been sentenced on August 23, 2011 to one year and three months prison term and 10,000 birr fine by the Arada Federal First Instance Court’s Sixth Criminal Bench.
Endale Tumi, 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 also sentenced from two years to two months of prison time and 15,000 birr fines on the August 23, 2011 court session.