The Second Criminal Bench of the Federal High Court held three separate hearings on the corruption cases involving high level officials of the Ethiopian Revenue and Customs Authority (ERCA) and private businessmen, for two consecutive days, early in the week.
On Monday May 13, the hearings in the overly packed court room included the cases of 24 individuals from ERCA and private enterprises. A 25th suspect, Tewolde Bisrat from ERCA, was brought before the court, along with the others, during Tuesday’s sessions. The court cases are filed under three names: Melaku Fenta, Director General of ERCA; Gebrewahid Woldegiorgis, Deputy Director, and Mohammed Issa, Head of Inspection Team of the Adama (Nazret) customs branch, under whose name are six other files.
The hearing held on the corruption case filed under Melaku Fenta, includes ERCA officials Eshetu Woldesemayat, Chief Prosecutor, Markneh Alemayehu, prosecutor, and Asmelash Woldemariam, head of the Kaliti customs branch. Private investors whose cases were heard under the filing include Ketema Kebede, owner of KK Plc, Semachew Kebede, owner of Intercontinental Addis Hotel and Fikru Maru (MD), initiator and head of Addis Cardiac Hospital PLC.
Under the case filed against Gebrewahid Woldegiorgis, the enquiry included the cases of Haimanot Tesfaye (Col.), Gebrewahid’s spouse, Nigisti Tesfaye, sister of Haimanot, Belachew Beyene, Tiruneh Berta, Tesfaye Abebe, Nega Gebregziabher, Mule Gashaw, Amogne Aweke, Habtom Gebremedhin, Mehiretab Abraha and Tewolde Bisrat.
The third hearing for Semere Nigussie, Zerihun Zewde, Marshet Tesfaye, Muluken Tesfaye and Dagne Seneshaw was held under the corruption case filed under Mohammed Issa, most of whom are from the Adama (Nazret) customs branch.
Investigators of the Federal Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission (FEACC) asked the bench for a 14-day extension to conduct further investigations and to collect more evidence. The prosecutors presented arguments in which they asserted that the suspects were highly placed individuals in the government and in private business and as such have the capability and resources to destroy evidence and bribe individuals to cover up the disclosure of further proof of their nefarious activities which shall be presented to the court in due course. These individuals are suspected of tax and revenue fraud, illegal banking and importing cement illegally through Franco Valuta.
The court was adjourned approving the request for further investigation for those who were charged under Gebrewahid’s case. Melaku Fenta’s case was adjourned till Friday, May 17, to allow his lawyer to provide evidence to the claims he made that his client has immunity as a member of Addis Ababa’s City Council and as such cannot be arrested. The investigators were also granted the 14-day extension they requested to further collect evidence against the other suspects charged under the Melaku Fenta case. Meanwhile, lawyers representing the suspects held under Mohammed Issa’s case complained that, although the court had authorized on Monday the suspects and their lawyers to meet to discuss their case, they didn’t have the chance to do so. Taking this into consideration, the court was adjourned until Friday May 17.
During the two-day hearings, suspects were heard complaining to the court of the procedures used in the course of the arrest and subsequent treatment of detainees. Most suspects asked the court, directly or through their lawyers, to be granted bail until their next court hearing citing health problems.
The ongoing saga has rocked the country to its core. The court was beset by the public that came in droves to witness the court proceedings, but many were unable to attend due to the limited space in the courthouse.