5 August 2017

Ethiopia: Orchid, Yonas Set Out On Another Battle Yet

Justices at the Supreme Court have sent back the 42 million Br court battle between Orchid Business Group and Yonas Kassahun to the Federal High Court, claiming lack of evidence to prove the case.

The case which was first judged in favour of Yonas was instigated three years ago at the Federal High Court. He initially lodged the suit requesting the Court to order Orchid to pay him money due which he spent on material supply for South Sudan's Independence Day celebration held on July 11, 2011.

In his claim, Yonas asserted that Deputy Manager of Orchid, Engeda Workneh, signed a guarantee document for repayment on the materials through Orchid's sister company, Soldan International, on September 20, 2011.

Orchid, in its statement of defence, denied all the claims, stating it did not enter into any agreement with the government of South Sudan and did not have a sister company called Soldan.

Orchid also claims that the signature on the alleged document does not belong to Engeda and he cannot represent the Company for that matter.

The Court ordered the Federal Police Forensic Laboratory for a forensic test of the document, which finally proved that Engeda signed the document. Based on this, the High Court ruled in favour of Yonas ordering Orchid to pay him the money without hearing witnesses.

Disappointed with the ruling, Orchid took the case to the Supreme Court seeking reversal, claiming that the lower court ruled without valuing its evidence.

Accepting Orchid's appeal, the Court ordered both parties to present their evidence. As proof, Orchid presented a document of a previous conviction of Yonas for hacking the e-mails of Akiko Seyoum, general manager of Orchid, while Yonas attached letters, videos and pictures showing Orchid's service on the South Sudan Independence Day.

After reviewing all the evidence, the Court concluded that a forensic result is not conclusive evidence although it is strong, and reversed the lower court's verdict. The Court also asserted that Yonas's previous hacking habits show he is capable of forging a guarantee document.

Following this, Yonas, in turn, brought the case to the Cassation Bench on October 19, 2015, claiming that the lower court made fundamental errors of law in disregarding the forensic laboratory's assertion.

On the Bench, Yonas and Akiko admitted that they had a close personal relationship following the inquiry of the Bench.

For the Cassation Bench, Orchid stated there is no such thing as sister companies under the country's legal system, and the previous conviction of Yonas put his credibility under question.

During the oral litigation, Yonas's lawyers asserted that Akiko was the general manager and shareholder of Soldan International, and that she admitted that Soldan is a sister company of Orchid during another court battle between the two.

After reviewing the case, on July 4, 2017, the Cassation Bench revoked both the rulings of the High and Supreme Courts, ordering the High Court to hear the witnesses of both sides as well as include Soldan International and the deputy manager of Orchid as co-defendants in the litigation before passing a decision.

"The case could be settled here without going back to the High Court," said Ameha Mekonen, one of Yonas's attorneys.

Having reservation over the inclusion of an international firm, Soldan, into the case, Hailu Nigatu, lawyer of Orchid, wants to remain an optimist.

"I am sure we are going to win the case if it goes back to the lower court," he said.

The Supreme Court's ruling will give a better chance for the two parties to voice their claims, according to a legal expert, who commented on the condition of anonymity.

Three weeks ago, the High Court ruled in favour of Orchid over the ownership of machinery, which Yonas and Orchid had been fighting over in a separate court file.

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