Addis Fortune (Addis Ababa)

27 July 2014

Ethiopia: Fugitive Business Mogul in Limelight for Cattle Sales Fraud

The auction of shares in the exiled businessman's troubled real estate company have been ordered, with no interest

Ermias T. Amelga, a cattle rustler? It looks like it could be the case, as the Oromia Supreme Court in Adama (Nazareth) orders the auctioning of the once celebrated businessman's Access Real Estate shares. Now a fugitive of the law, the auction is to make up for the 1.7 million Br a cattle trader claims he was cheated of in payment for oxen sold to Ermias.

The Court's Eastern Division Bench, based in Adama, gave the order on June 17, 2014, to sell 1,060 shares, in response to a petition from Hussien Idris for the execution of an earlier decision passed by the same court.

Regional supreme courts are constitutionally delegated to handle cases that the Federal High Court would. This practice is in place in the Oromia, Southern, Amhara and Tigray regional states, where the Federal High Court is not established yet.

Hussein first filed a suit to the Oromia Supreme Court on August 13, 2013, claiming that Ermias - a long time customer who bought fattened oxen from him with cheques - took advantage of the longstanding relationship and gave him two cheques for 1.7 million Br on April 14, 2013, in payment for animals already delivered. The banks, however, informed Hussein that there was no money in Ermias's account, he said.

Hussein also claimed 10pc in interest, as well as 10pc payment to the lawyer.

Ermias did not respond to a call, both through a direct letter and through Addis Zemen newspaper, to submit a written defence, and the court decided on October 24, 2013, that Ermias must pay the 1.7 million Br, as well as the nine percent interest and 10pc lawyer's fee.

It was on June 17, 2014, that the court responded to Hussein's appeal for the execution of the ruling, by deciding to auction off 1,060 of Ermias's shares in the troubled real estate firm. However, the auction, advertised by the Access Real Estate Company on July 13, 2014, in the state-owned Addis Zemen newspaper, attracted no bidders on the opening day - July 25, 2014. It was expected to take place at the office of the Homebuyers' Association, where Access is housed.

Suits in court and different petitions have been running on both an organised and individual basis against the real estate and its champion, Ermias, who is also the major shareholder and its chief executive officer (CEO), until he was jailed for issuing a bounced cheque, a problem similar to that which has taken Hussien to Court. He later left the country.

Access, which was once a flourishing company that had managed to collect close to a billion Birr by promising to build and deliver affordable homes around the city within a year, has already become a public issue involving no less than six ministerial level officials.

The Company, established in 2008 by 652 shareholders with a capital of 35 million Br, received partial and full payments from 2,000 clients wishing to buy houses, which were to be built in various parts of the city, including CMC, Ayat, Lafto Gerji, Bole, Lebu, Alem Bank and Betel.

It has been facing mounting legal troubles over its failure to deliver a single home. This led to homebuyers rushing to the Access offices and demanding their money back. Amidst this trouble, homebuyers from each site organised themselves into committees, in order to determine the best way to recover their investments. And this has led to the establishment of a homebuyers association, which has been struggling towards a positive conclusion for its members.

Currently, the Company, which is without an officially recognised CEO, at least legally exists with a board of six members under the chairmanship of Mekuria Degu.

However, properties owned by the Company are currently banned from transactions and change of hands either by orders from federal courts or by a decision passed from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in response to applications from committees of home buyers, according to a homebuyer who is also member of the committee.

A joint committee - composed of the board members of the Company, the homebuyers association and higher government officials - are currently working on the way forward for the company, according to one of the buyers who is also a member of the joint committee.

Many buyers and creditors have sued the Company so far and none have secured their money except for the court judgment, says a member of the committee. The execution faces complications for a variety of reasons, according to him.

Amidst this complication, Hussein has managed to get the court order for the auctioning of Ermias's shares in the Company, which has so far not attracted interest from a single person.

Access's managers will appear before court on July 31, 2014, with their report of the auction.

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