25 May 2014

Ethiopia: Limited Space At New Court Forces Yet Another Adjournment in Corruption Case

The high profile corruption case against Melaku Fenta, other former officials of the Ethiopian Revenues & Customs Authority (ERCA) and other business people has been adjourned yet again to May 30, 2014. This time the adjournment came because the judges did not like the new venue at the Kaliti High Court, which they found to be too narrow and disturbed by a lot of outside noise.

The presiding judges of the fifteenth criminal bench, Berihu Teklebirehan, Abohay Guade and Getachew Miteke, said that the venue would impede people's attendance to the session. The case had moved from the Lideta High Court in order to speed up the process.

During the court session held at Kaliti on Friday only 15 people were allowed to enter the court because of its size, and even some of the lawyers did not have enough room to stand.

Berihu said the bench has a responsibility to conduct an open hearing to the public, which the new location failed to avail. The proceedings should continue at a place that allows the public to attend and the defendants to feel the court is rational.

Some attorneys claimed the court period was being prolonged by several reasons, but the judge said the adjournment was actually intended to ensure the defendants' constitutional rights were respected.

At the last court session, the judges requested seven defendants and the prosecutors to clarify some points to the court and Friday's session was to give ruling on how to continue hearing the case.

The corruption charge by the Federal Ethics & Anti-Corruption Commission (FEACC) alleges that the government officials conspired with the accused businesspersons to ensure that investigations being conducted against the latter, which could potentially have resulted in criminal charges, were cancelled. This was in addition to providing undue benefits to their co-defendants.

The accusations from the commission include corruption, maladministration, misuse of power, nepotism and the illegal possession of arms and ammunition.

Twelve defendants submitted statements of defence in a written document on February 17, 2014, while the remaining defendants submitted them during previous court sessions.

The FEACC submitted a response to the Statement of Defence by the defendants on March 18 and it was a ruling on the preliminary charges and exchanges that was expected on Friday and the ruling was to determine whether or not charges are amended or rejected, or if the trial will proceed or be cancelled.

In addition to Melaku, Gebrewahed, the former deputy director of the ERCA, and prominent businessmen, such as Nega Gebreegziaber of Netsa Trading Plc; Ketema Kebede of KK Trading Plc and Dr. Fikru Maru, founder and CEO of the Addis Cardiac Hospital, are included in the suit.

Along with the four individuals who are not detained, Marshet Tesfaye of M.D Transit did not attend the court session due to medical reasons.

The accused were arrested a year ago, in May 2013, following a joint operation by law enforcement agencies.

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