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Prosecutors of the Federal Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission (FEACC) claimed that the high profile defendants charged with corruption collectively abused taxpayers’ money worth over 950 million birr.
According to the charges presented by prosecutors to the Federal High Court 15th Criminal Bench against former Ethiopian Revenue and Customs Authority (ERCA) officials and prominent business individuals, claims were made that for years the defendants abused their power and received bribes from individuals.
At the hearing that took place six months after the defendants were initially arrested, three different case files were presented to the court, of which the first includes 28 charges, the second 17 charges and the third included 93 charges against the defendants.
Melaku Fenta, the former director of ERCA and his deputy, Gebrewahid Woldegiorgis, were charged as the first and second defendants in all three case files. The charges in the case files were brought against a total of 73 defendants.
Under the first case file, Melaku Fenta, Gebrewahid Woldgiorgis, Nega Gebregziabher, owner of Basefa Trading and Netsa Trading, Ketema Kebede owner of KK plc, Getu Gelete, owner of Get-As International plc, and Gebreselassie Gebre , owner and general manager of Comet Trading plc, are included in the first file.
Accordingly, Melaku and Gebrewahid have been accused of allowing the import of goods by certain businessmen without inspection. From 31 defendants included in the first case file, 20 of them are officers of ERCA who had been working out of the head office and the various branches such as Adama, Mile and Mojo. Except for the first defendant, Melaku Fenta, the 19 defendants are accused of receiving bribes from different business people. The third defendant in the first case file, Amogne Tagele, former head of the Adama branch, received 850,000 birr from various people at different times and was supported and directed by Gebrewahid Woldegiorgis.
In the second case file, Melaku was accused of forming an unlawful technical committee to hear the complaints of customers even though there was a proclamation clearly stating the procedures on how to address complaints. Gebrewahid was also indicted for forming another illegal audit committee to oversee the work of the technical committee which caused the Authority to lose out in the collection of tax from certain businesses.
While Melaku and Gebrewahid should have apprehended illegal importers, they both failed to do so and in fact arranged for investigations of such importers to be dropped. The companies whose cases were terminated belonged to the likes of Nega Gebregziabher, Getu Gelete and Gebreselassie Gebremariam, the charge reads.
Gebrewahid is also accused of preventing an investigation of Golagul Trading who were not paying VAT on items they were selling even though the Authority had approved the investigation to go ahead. He is also accused of receiving 250,000 birr from Bahiru Abreha, owner of Bisrat Plc.
While the charges were read, the lawyers of the defendants requested bail to be granted to their clients. However, the court only granted bail to three defendants accused under the first case file, stating that bail is allowed only for those accused of crimes in which the penalty is less than ten years. A 15,000 birr bail was set for defendants Semere Negussie, an Adama Branch inspection officer at Modjo Dry Port & Terminal, Marshet Tesfaye, the liaison officer of M.D. Freight-Forwarding, and Dawit Mekonnen, a liaison officer.
The majority of the defendants and their lawyers were claiming that the prosecutor did not provide them with the documents attached as evidence for the charges.
The court ordered the prosecutor to hand over the documents to the defendants, stating that it is the constitutional right of the defendants to have access to such documents. The court then scheduled the next trial hearing for October 29, 2013