23 March 2014

Ethiopia: Judge Orders Charges Changed Against Addis Prefab

The decision came after the prosecutor addressed the company name in rebuttal to defence statements

Fikremariam Alemu and Yosef Asgedom- two of the six founders of Addis Prefab Houses Manufacturing Industries S.C, who are currently facing serious fraud allegations - will see the charges brought against them amended by mid-April.

This is according to the ruling by the Federal High Court, on Thursday, March 20, 2014. The judge ruled for the amendment of the charges, reasoning that there was inconsistency between the charges filed by the prosecutor and the rebuttal the prosecutor presented in court in response to the statements of defence.

The charges brought against the defendants included falsely informing hopeful homebuyers that Addis Prefab had purchased land on a lease for real-estate from the government, in the Bole Bulbula, Summit Condominium and Bole Beshale areas - all in Bole District; erecting posters and boards on plots of land they had not received and promoting themselves as a real-estate company and promising to build different kinds of houses for delivery within a short period of time. Another charge brought against them was the collection of around 4.8 million Br from the plaintiffs through the Company's account by promising them that they would provide them with houses.

While presenting his rebuttals to the statements from defence lawyers, the prosecutor argued that the Company had signed a contract to buy leased land on February 15, 2013, with Comet Trading, and on December 22, 2012, with Milki Burayu, but only after collecting money from 37 hopeful homebuyers.

The judge ordered the prosecutor to amend the charges, because, while both plaintiff and defendant seemed to agree that Addis Prefab was not yet formed by the time of the alleged crimes, the prosecutor was referring to Addis Prefab during the oral proceedings.

On February 11, 2014, Fikremariam's lawyer argued that the charge failed to mention the location, time and date of the alleged crime.

Yosef's attorneys, too, argued that their client must only be accused of a breach of trust and not fraud; the latter constitutes a civil offense, as opposed to a crime - as in the case of fraud. The judge said it would be a criminal charge, because the two were telling lies to hopeful homebuyers. The defence lawyers also argued that the 37 charges should be presented separately, citing that the two persons had differing duties and responsibilities emanating from the positions they held at the Company.

During Thursday's session, however, the judge rejected all of the arguments raised by the defence lawyers. The lawyers' suggestion that the 37 charges should be presented separately was rejected by the judge on the grounds of similarity.

The argument by Fikremariam's lawyer that the charge failed to mention the location, time and date of the alleged crime was also rejected by the judge, who said all these details have already been indicated in the charge.

Thursday's session was not attended by Yosef's attorneys.

Addis Prefab was established in February 2009, with an initial capital of 42.9 million Br by six co-founders: Gezahagn Yaineshet, Yoseph Asegedom, Fikremariam Alemu, Tigist Atnafu, Semayawit Geberemichael and Tesfaye Wubshet. It had 861 people registered on its shareholder list by the end of 2013. The Company was operating in the real estate, manufacturing, construction and trading sectors.

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