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Prosecutor says his right is no more valid

Seven more suspects detained

Melaku Fenta, Director General of the Ethiopian Revenue and Customs Authority (ERCA) gave up his legal immunity as a cabinet member of the Addis Ababa City Administration.  
At the hearing held on Tuesday May 14 at the Second Criminal Bench of the Lideta Federal High Court, the court had denied bail to all suspects under custody, including Melaku stating that his right to legal immunity was not corroborated by evidence and ordered that proof of immunity be submitted to the court on Friday May 17th hearing.
On Friday Melaku Fenta’s lawyer presented his evidence that substantiates that Melaku is a member of the Addis Ababa City Council since April 2008 but did not request the court to allow his client to be freed on its basis. To the surprise of all present in court, both Melaku and his lawyer told the court that, though they have brought the document to substantiate   immunity from prosecution, which would have prevented all forms of arrest, save in cases of flagrant conducts, Ato Melaku chose not  to exercise his right and opted to stay under custody.  “I don’t want to use my right. I prefer to be with my friends. But I want to show that my right has not been respected,” Melaku, who was detained on Friday May 10 said at the court hearing.
The prosecutors accepted the suspect’s decision that he did not want to use his right. But still they argued that his membership is, in any case, not active as it has ended late last month. The past council members have been replaced by new members following the election held in April. However the prosecutor noted that the court respected the suspect’s right of  not wanting to exercise his immunity right.
The court adjourned Melaku’s case for May 27 to appear with the other suspects that are under custody, and allowed the investigators’ request of 14 day to pursue further investigation.
The day’s session mainly focused again on the lawyers’ claim that their clients complained their civil rights were not respected by the police. On the first two hearings held Monday and Tuesday, the lawyers had voiced their concerns saying that the detainees were unable to meet not only with them but also with family members. They further claimed that they were unable to get basic health care since their detention, while the court had ordered the investigators to respect the civil rights of the suspects.
On Tuesday the court had ordered officials of the prison facility (Maekelawi) to appear and explain why they violated the suspects’ right. On Friday’s hearing Commander Birhanu Abebe , representative of the facility appeared before the court and denied the claims of the detainees and their lawyers. He said that the facility respects every citizen’s right. “We did not apply any new system for these detainees,” he explained. Wednesdays and Fridays are the days scheduled for all lawyers to meet with their clients in the prison, he defended his assertions. Still, the lawyers strongly argued that they are unable to meet with their clients even on the stated two days. They complained that the prison guards are abusing their constitutional and basic civil rights.  
The court once again ordered the Federal Ethic Anti-Corruption Commission (FEACC) to make sure that the detainees’ rights are respected by the police. 
The Mohamed Issa et al case was not heard as the suspects did not appear before the court. At the hearing, the police explained their absence indicating  that the suspects were unable to appear at the court as they are currently under investigation. Following that, the Court ordered the police to bring in the suspects for hearing of Monday May 20.
Meanwhile, additional seven suspects were detained by the police in relation with the corruption and tax fraud scandal. Five of the seven suspects appeared before the court on Friday May 17. The other two did not appear as they were apprehended on Friday.
The court ordered the investigators to bring in the seven suspects for hearing on Monday May 20. 
Mamo Abdi, tax and customs affairs adviser to the Director of ERCA, Dawit Ethiopia, director of Risk Management Directorate of ERCA, and Kone Mihiretu, Fitsum Gebremedhin, Mamo Kiros, Asheber Tessemaand Alelegn Tesfaye, all businessmen, are the new suspects held in custody on alleged involvement of the country’s grand corruption and fraud case currently under investigation.
On Monday May 13, the hearings in the   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 others, during Tuesday’s session. 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 (Nazareth) 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 Trading 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, Habtom Gebremedhin, son of Nigisti, Belachew Beyene, Tiruneh Berta, Tesfaye Abebe, Nega Gebregziabher, Mule Gashaw, Amogne Aweke, 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 against Mohammed Issa et al, most of whom are from the Adama (Nazret) customs branch.
At the hearing held early in the week, 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 and witness.
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 means and resources to destroy evidence and bribe individuals to cover up their crimes, which shall be presented to the court in due course. These individuals were 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.
The investigators were also granted the 14-day extension they requested to further collect evidence against the other suspects charged under Melaku Fenta e.al case on Tuesday, while on the Friday hearing the court also adjourned Melaku’s case with the rest to May 27, 2013.
Meanwhile, the lawyers representing the suspects held under Mohammed Issa’s case complained they were not able to meet with their clients despite the Court’s order they be allowed to meet with their clients to discuss their cases. The lawyers claimed that, they were still unable to meet with their clients due to restrictions imposed by the detention centre administration. Taking this into consideration, the court had adjourned their hearing until Friday May 17, but as police did not bring the detainees on Friday, the court ordered them to appear again on Monday May 20, for a bail hearing.
During the two-day (Monday and Tuesday) hearings, the detainees complained 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 drama has shocked 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.