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The Federal High Court’s 15th Criminal Bench on Wednesday November 20, referred the case of Melaku Fenta, former director of ERCA,

to the House of Federation’s Council for Constitutional interpretation to clarify whether the court has material jurisdiction on the case.
The Federal High Court’s jurisdiction in the case of Melaku was challenged by his lawyer who argued that the defendant, as a government official with a ministerial portfolio and a member of the Council of Ministers, should have been tried by the Federal Supreme Court.
The Federal Ethics & Anti-Corruption Commission’s (FEACC) prosecutors, for their part said that Melaku was only getting benefits labeled as a minister but does not hold full portfolio of a minister so the case should not be transferred to the Supreme court, which has the mandate to see cases of high profile government officials.
“Melaku’s ministerial portfolio is only to accord benefits for the former director general of the Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority (ERCA), and therefore, he should be tried by the Federal High Court,” argued the prosecutors.
Melaku Fenta was behind bar since May 2013 on alleged charges of corruption that include his deputy and other high profile business people.
The court, presided over by three judges, regarded Melaku as a full-fledged minister however, questioned the constitutionality of referring the case to the Federal Supreme Court.
Under Article 8(1) of the Federal Courts Establishment Proclamation reads that offences for which officials of the Federal Government are held liable in connection with their official responsibility, the Federal Supreme Court will have first instance jurisdiction.
Further, Article 7(1) of the Revised Anti-Corruption Special Procedure and Rules of Evidence Proclamation reads that the Federal High Court will have first instance jurisdiction other than those cases for which the Federal Supreme Court has first instance jurisdiction.
The court requested clarification of these two articles.
“The defendant will be deprived of his constitutional right to appeal if his case is to be tried by the Federal Supreme Court,” said one of the judges. “This is contrary to Article 20 (6) of the constitution which declares a defendant’s right to appeal.”
The ruling sought for constitutional interpretation on the matter as well as which court should have jurisdiction to preside over the case from the House of Federation, an organ with the power to interpret the federal constitution of the country.
The High Court has adjourned the case until December 12, 2013, when the decision by the House of Federation is expected to be revealed.
Melaku Fenta, and his deputy, Gebrewahid Woldegiorgis, were charged as the first and second defendants in all case files that were brought against a total of 73 defendants.  
Prosecutors of 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 ERCA officials and prominent business individuals, claims were made that for years the defendants abused their power and received bribes from individuals.