Addis Abeba — The last ten days inside the Federal high court Lideta branch, 10th criminal bench have seen the continued trial of dozens of individuals suspected of grand corruption involving former officials the army operated Metals and Engineering Corporation (MeTEC). Here is what went down the court room.
Police receives extra days to remand & investigate Dagnew Brothers
The judges at the 10th criminal bench, who have been presiding over the case since the first day, have examined the series of statements of allegations provided by investigating police in the file that included former Chief Executive Officer of MeTEC, Major General Kinfe Dagnew along with his brother Esayas Dagnew, former Chief Operations Officer at the state monopoly Ethio-Telecom.
Esayas was detained a few days after Maj. Gen. Kinfe's televised arrest; he is suspected of favoritism with MeTEC officials and an embezzlement of about 322.6 million birr. The police say through Esayas, MeTEC won a project of mobile and CDMA site plants in Somali regional state and Bale Zone in Oromia regional state without competitive bids.
Investigators have filed 14-page of preliminary allegations before the court, with 13 different counts against Maj. Gen. Kinfe alone including an allegation of contract deals of 30 international procurement without competitive tenders between 2010 and 2018. The police say they have found all the necessary evidences that show the suspect had approved half of these procurement amounting to a total of US$1 billion. Most of the remaining counts against the General are similar to the 26 other suspects, which is under the file name of Brigadier General Tena Kurunde (henceforth BG Tena Kurunde et.al), who the police allege is one of the major players in orchestrating the allegations of corrupt practices committed by the remaining in the same file.
Maj. Gen. Kinfe's private lawyers have on Monday Dec. 03, requested a three day extension of the trial in order to review the charges and discuss with his client, a request accepted by the judges who adjourned the hearing for December 06. However, at the hearing on Thursday Dec. 06, the court granted additional 14 days to the police to remand and investigate the suspects in the file.
More on BG Tena Kurunde et.al and the old ships
The major accusation on BG Tena Kurunde is an allegation of conspiring with employees of MeTEC to conduct international procurement worth about 37 billion birr (around US$2 billion) without legal procurement procedures, an accusation which also touched Major Getachew Gebre Silasie, former head of deforestation and follow up works at MeTEC. This procurement was conducted between 2012/13-2015 fiscal year.
The accusations further stated that MG Tena and his associates have spent an equivalent of 44 million birr (about US$ 1.2m) in 2015 alone for the maintenance of two old ships, 'Abay Wenz' and Abiyot," which MeTEC bought from the then Ethiopian Shipping Lines, currently Ethiopian Shipping and Logistics Services, for scrap of metal, but instead used the ships to conduct illegal sea trades. This particular accusation also involve Colonel Mulu Woldegebriel, Deputy Director and chief of business development, and Colonel Azeb Tadese, sales manager under corporate marketing of MeTEC. Major Semere Haile Hagos, operation manager, and Captain Yekuno-Amlak Tesfaye, head of industry operations at Dejen Aviation Engineering Complex have also been implicated for allegedly assisting this process, as they were responsible for overseeing the maintenance of the infamous old ships purchased by MeTEC. Captain Solomon Abreha, head of training from MeTEC's corporate transformation office, is another suspect accused of securing a contract deal, which rose the maintenance fee for the ships purchase to about US$6.2 million.
Besides the saga of the old ships, MG Tena is also under another investigation, which implicated him of authorizing the installation of a power plant to the Tana Beles I sugar project, without a legal competitive tender back in October 2012.
Alem's world revolves on MeTEC
At a hearing on December 4, the same court has looked at the file of businessman millionaire Alem Fitsum and Colonel Setegn Kahsay. Colonel Setegn is suspected of tampering with evidences of corruption accusations on Brigadier General Hadgu G/Giyorgis, who is in the same file of BG Tena Kurunde et.al, while Alem is accused of conducting illegal business transactions with officials of MetEC.
The police investigating the two have brought documents before the court arguing that the main suspect, Alem Fitsum, owner of Alemgenet Trade and Industry Plc., had sold Riviera Hotel, a three-star hotel under Riviera International Plc, and a plastic factory to MeTEC with inflated prices under dubious circumstances. According to the police who cited a minute obtained from the procurement committee set up by Maj. Gen Kinfe himself, a procurement worth 128 million ETB was executed by MeTEC, but later on the same procurement showed additional 67.83 million birr, bringing the sum to 195 million ETB.
Money from the three-Star hotel circles one too many suspects. A colleague of BG Tena, Birgadier General Birha Beyene, a female high ranking military official who was in the position of Audit and Inspection department with MeTEC, had to defend a charge which implicated her to Alem Fitsum's sale of his hotel and plastic factory to MeTEC. She is accused of executing the purchase by participating in the committee overseeing the purchase and later acquiring the deal without the legal procurement process with just a written minute from the meeting.
The police have therefore requested additional days to keep businessman Alem in custody and investigate this and all related allegations. Accordingly, the court has granted the police 14 more days.
Scene from Ethiopia's dream project, the GERD
An alleged deal involving close to 2.1 billion ETB for identification and forest clearing work at the site of the construction of Ethiopia's mega dam, GERD, taints MeTEC. The police alleges suspects have also tampered with evidences. Ayalnesh Mekonen, office secretary for Brigadier General Hadgu G/Giyorgis, as well as Lieutenant Colonel Solomon Berhe, and Colonel Yared Hailu, heads of finance from MeTEC's production plant and new business development office of the MeTEC, respectively, are all implicated in manipulating the process of area identification phase at the site of GERD. Adding additional accusation, the police say Maj. Gen. Kinfe Dagnew headed this illegal act and gave a free pass for Ayalnesh through his colleagues. Investigators further told the court they have witness testimonials from 11 individuals on this particular case. Ayalnesh is also accused of conspiring with other officials to acquire the work for the forest clearing at the site of GERD in Guba, Benishangul Gumuz regional state, through her own company registered under a family member with an illicit payment while the actual work was not done.
In the same file under Tena Kurunde et.al, officials like Major Yirga Abreha, finance head from Hibret Manufacturing and Machine Building Industry of MeTEC, are accused of embezzling public money in the form of facilitating credit services for individuals and sponsorships through favoritism. The same charge also implicated Major Gebresilassie Gebregiyorgis, capacity building and corporate transformation manager, for allegedly favoring employees and friends with academic scholarships abroad, exploiting MeTEC's coffer.
Other senior officials with the rank of deputy directors from the MeTEC's business development and military equipment production units have been accused of illegally purchasing planes. This accusation also implicated Brigadier General Hadgu G/Giyorgis and Colonel Shegaw Mulugeta.
20 pickup vehicles worth millions
Portraying MeTEC's CEO, once again, as the main culprit, the police have also reported finding an illegal procurement of 20 double-cab pickup vehicles worth 22 million ETB, thought to have been bought without adequate reason and the proper legal procedure in June of 2011.
The police also accused Lieutenant Colonel Yishak Hailemariam Adnahom, head of MeTEC's commercial and civil products planning and control department, Major Kindeya Girmay, MeTEC's finance head for various industries, and Colonel Girmay Tarekegn, property manager at corporate marketing and sales, for proposing and conducting the illegal purchases.
Lieutenant Colonel Adane Agernew, MetEC's property manager at corporate logistics and supply department, is accused of receiving the vehicles without proper inspection report and procurement documentations. While Lieutenant Colonel Asemert Kidane, former representative for Gafat Armament Engineering Complex, is suspected of endorsing the final decision for the procurement of the trucks, benefiting both herself and a third party. Asmeret's lawyer appealed to the court that she was suffering from a serious health condition and therefore should receive bail right, which the court denied.
A journalist defends corruption accusations
An entertainment program anchor at the national television, and a household name of a youth program with the then Ethiopian Radio and Television Agency (ERTA), later renamed EBC, and renamed again ETV, Fitsum Yeshitla saw herself inside the web of the corruption allegations on MeTEC officials.
The police accuse Fistum of having affiliations with Maj. Gen Kinfe and embezzling public money worth US$23,000, which she allegedly shared with another colleague working in entertainment industry. While Fitsum and her colleague are accused of receiving US$11,500 for a documentary film work, Fitsum is additionally accused of traveling to the US for a vacation with expenses paid by MeTEC. On Thursday December 6, the court granted eight more days for the police to remand and investigate Fitsum. She told the court that since she has been taken into police custody she has not given a statement to the police. AS