Judges at the Federal High Court granted police another 14-day extension to keep in custody 26 officials from the state-owned military-industrial conglomerate Metals & Engineering Corporation (MetEC). The police requested the extension to continue their investigation of the suspects, who are accused of grand corruption involving 37 billion Br in public procurement.
The suspects are top-level managers of the Corporation, including four deputy director generals and two former deputy directors. The suspects were arrested on November 9 and 10, 2018.
Their first appearance before the court was two weeks ago. During the session held on November 11, 2018, police presented the preliminary claims against the suspects and requested that the court give a 14-day custody extension to conduct further investigations.
The three judges who are presiding over the case are Christian Baylegne, Lemma Tuji and Genanaw Assefa. The panel granted the police their request to keep the suspects in confinement, and they adjourned the case after rejecting appeals by the suspects to be granted bail.
During the latest sessions, which lasted three days, the police presented 11-page preliminary allegations filed at the court, representing 18 counts leveled against the suspects separately and jointly.
The major allegation by the police involves seven of the suspects and is related to the procurement of two shipping vessels MetEC procured from the Ethiopian Shipping & Logistics Services Enterprise. Police claim that MetEC procured the vessels at a reduced price under the pretext of using them as scrap metal. However, the suspects prepared an unlikely feasibility study that recommended the renovation of the ships and to use them once again for transportation, according to police.
The conglomerate spent over 544 million Br on renovations of the ships, according to the claims. After the renovations, the vessels generated 29 million dollars in revenue, which was not deposited into the corporation's account, according to the count filing.
The wrongful procurement of various construction machinery, 20 double-cab pick-up trucks, the Rivera Hotel, a plastics factory, various commercial buildings and residential units and five aircraft are also among the counts listed in the preliminary accusations. The illegal procurement process implemented to hire a contractor for a power plant construction at Tana Beles I sugar project is another count the police filed with the court in support of the allegations of corruption.
Yirga Aabreha (Maj.), finance head of Hibret Manufacturing & Machine-Building Industry, one of the 15 industries operating under the Corporation, is suspected of allegedly issuing loans out of the corporation's accounts. Ayalnesh Mekonnen, secretary to deputy director Hadigu W. Giorgis (Birg. Gen), was caught red-handed while trying to destroy documentary evidence, according to the police. Hadigu is also suspected of illegal sales of ammunition to third parties.
Lejiwanki Tecno Plc, Tecnoalready and Kiyamaluk are some of the companies involved in alleged crimes of corruption as filed in the preliminary claims by federal investigators.
Last Tuesday the Bench moved the hearing to a larger courtroom at Lideta High Court, FitihHall, as the number of those who attend the sessions has increased. The case was being heard at the regular courtroom of the Bench, which was crowded by relatives and co-workers of the suspects.
The nine investigators asked for a 14-day extension to further investigate the allegations and to collect more evidence against the suspects. The team also requested that the Court deny bail rights to the suspects, citing the potential for the detained to tamper with evidence. They argued that the suspects wield extreme influence in supporting their application for custody extensions.
Police also stated that they have taken testimonies from 30 witnesses and received expert analysis during their investigation. Audit reports, valuation of the damages to public property, additional documentary reports, results of forensic investigations and translation of documents are needed to finalise the investigations and to press charges against the suspect.
After hearing the police application, the judges of the 10th Criminal Bench gave all of the suspects, most of them joined by their legal representatives and public lawyers, an opportunity to present their arguments against the investigators' requests.
Most of the suspects, including; Tena Kurunde (Brig. Gen.), Girmay Tareqegne (Col.), Asemert Kidane (Lt. Col.), Shegaw Mulugeta (Col.) and Birha Beyene (Brig. Gen.) stated to the court that they were seriously ill and in need of constant medical attention, thus their right to bail should be respected. Asemert's lawyers also claimed, separately, that their client is in a critical health condition and her health could deteriorate further if she remains detained.
The remaining suspects claimed that they are responsible to large families and requested the court grant them bail. They also raised the issues of the vagueness of the police allegations in failing to show when, where and how the crimes were committed.
Rejecting the claims of the suspects, the judges adjourned the case to December 12, 2018.
The same court is reviewing the case of former director general of the Corporation Kinfe Dagnew (Maj. Gen), who is also suspected of grand corruption. Kinfe's case is being reviewed together with his brother, Essayas Dagnew, former Chief Operating Officer of Ethio telecom. The judges also granted police a 14-day extension to keep both Kinfe and Essayas in custody for further investigations.