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Monday, September 30, 2013
Incomplete Audits Mean More Prison Time For Corruption Detainees
A further continuance until September 30, to complete audit investigations for companies under detained businessmen Mehertab Abreha and Begziabhere Alebel, was granted to the Federal Ethics & Anti Corruption Commission (FEACC) last Friday. Investigations on the two have been ongoing for four months while they remained in custody.
Meheretab, brother of the ex-TPLF strongman, Seye Abreha, and Begziabhere, a renowned architect, are among a group of over 60 tax officials, businessmen and freight forwarders that were arrested in May 2013. This came following a high level corruption crackdown on the tax sector by the Commission. Melaku Fenta, former director general of the Ethiopian Revenues & Customs Authority (ERCA); Gebrewahed W. Giorgis, his deputy, and businessmen of some fame, including – Simachew Kebede of intercontinental hotels; Ketema Kebede of K.K. Plc and Nega G. Egziabhere of Netsa Trading Plc – were among those detained.
Following repeated continuances for investigation, the Commission finally pressed charges against close to 44 of its suspects, including the high profile detainees. Some were allowed to go out on bail. But, for Meheretab and Begziabhere, along with two other detainees – businessman Fitsum G.Medhin and detained ERCA customs official Tekleab Zerabruk – their fates remained undecided.
Claiming that audit reports of the suspects’ respective companies were taking time to complete, the Commission asked that they be kept at the Federal Police Commission’s Maekelawi jail. On the other hand, their charged companions were moved to the Kaliti and Kilinto correctional facilities.
Three continuances of an average of eight days were granted to the Commission’s investigators before Friday’s hearing. As usual, the four detainees were bussed in to the Federal High Court at 9:00am in the morning. It took until half past eleven before a judge was found to look at the case.
Investigators first announced that they had completed audits on Tekleab Zerabruk and had no objections to the defendant being released on bail. The only indication about impending charges came when the investigator stated that charges to be levied against Tekleab were not serious enough to deny him bail rights. Tekeab, who said that he had a gross salary of 7,000 Br, working for the ERCA’s Mille branch, was asked to pay 20,000 Br in bail bond by the judge, who also ordered his release.
For Meheretab and Beegziabhere, however, such a conclusion was elusive. The Commission’s investigator maintained that their companies’ audit reports were incomplete and asked for 14 days additional time. The judge, after admonishing the investigator that holding a person for a sustained period of time without charge would later make the government liable for compensation should the person be found innocent, granted an eight-day continuance. This eight day deadline fell on Friday September 27, 2013, which is a Meskel Holiday, hence the case was adjourned until the following Monday.
Fetsum Gebremedhin’s case was rescheduled for Monday, September 23, because his file could not be found in time.
Two additional detainees were also brought into court in connection to the corruption investigation on Friday. Tadele Berhanu and Woldemichael Halefa, both businessmen, were arrested last week for allegedly importing materials without paying customs fees or taxes, by bribing customs officials. They were also accused of alleged money laundering. Investigators asked for the usual 14 days of investigation to take further testimony of the suspects and gather evidence. The judge granted their request and adjourned the case until October 4