A handful of charges have been dropped in the high-profile corruption case that saw Melaku Fenta and Gebrewahid Gebregziabher, former Director General and Deputy Director General of the Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority (ERCA), indicted on charges of corruption and other crimes some three ago.
Apart from the ERCA directors, a number of notable business personalities in town, 24 in total, are also part of the charge file which, according to commentators, is one of the landmark cases where the Federal Ethics and Anticorruption Commission has cracked down on corruption in high-ranking government officials and influential people.
Currently, the case is pending before the Federal High Court Lideta Division 15th Criminal Bench and this week a handful of corruption related charges were dropped by the court.
According to the ruling that was passed by the court, charges number four, nine and 26 were all dropped and the accused were told that they do not have to defend the case since the evidence presented against them is not strong enough to proceed further.
Corruption charge number four, which brought together Melaku, Gebrewahid, Asmelash Woldemariam (an official of ERCA), Nega Gebregziabher (owner of Netsa Plc), Getu Gelete (major shareholder og Get-As International PLC who was charged in absentia), Gebreselassie Gebremariam (CoMET Trading), Woldesilassie Woldemichael (former intelligence deputy director) in one charge, and involved the abuse of the Franco Valuta privilege that is granted to the national housing agency has been dropped for lack of sufficient evidence. The charge alleged the bunch to have taken advantage of the cement import that is brought to the country free of tax. However, the charges and evidence that is presented by the commission’s prosecutors was not enough to proceed with the case, the court’s decision said.
Charge number nine specifically alleges that Gebrewahid has not done what is required of him as deputy director of ERCA to stop abuse of power in relation to a low-level manager of authority, who misappropriated confiscated electronic goods on the customs check-point. However, the court passed the ruling saying that someone of his (Gebrewahid) position could not be expected control everything that is going on the authority and hence could not be held accountable. Furthermore, Gebrewahid was also free from the charge that involved extortion and abuse of power by another defendant (Daniel Gebrekidan) where the defendant used the director’s name to commit the crime.
In aggregate, the former director has managed to shade one of the corruption charges out of the five he is facing at the moment. Now, Melaku will defend himself on a total of four corruption charges. Meanwhile, Gebrewahid who is also standing trial on eight other charges, apart from the ones that he shares with Melaku, saw two more charges (in addition to the one that he shares with Melaku) dropped this week bringing down the grand total of the charges against him to 10.
The round of charges, which were dropped this week, also had far more significant impact on individuals who are standing trail in the corruption case.
For example, Simachew Kebede, owner of Intercontinental Hotel, who is included in charge number four with Melaku and others, which involves abuse of the duty-free privileges that is the housing agency, was released from prison without bail. Despite three years of imprisonment, Semachew has been cleared of the corruption charges this week and was allowed to walk free.
On the other hand, another notable business personality, Nega Gebregziabher, owner of Netsa Trading PLC, has also been cleared off one of the corruption charges, in which he was indicted. Although Nega has not been released yet, he has only one more corruption charge which will be reviewed at the end of the week. If Nega is cleared off that charge, he will have the chance to be released on bail soon after.
The court then adjourned the case for October 10, 2016 where it will hear witness that will be called by the defense.