4 May 2019

Ethiopia: Ex-Procurement Officials Face Corruption Charges

Public prosecutors have charged Yigezu Daba, former director general of the Public Procurement & Property Disposal Service, and nine defendants, accusing them of high crimes of corruption involving nearly 700 million Br.

Filed on May 2, 2019, at the First Criminal Bench of Lideta High Court, the charge states that the defendants have allegedly caused the loss of public funds in the procurement of four million quintals of milling wheat. Nine of the defendants are from the Service, while one of them, Mengistu Kebede, is from the Ethiopian Trading Businesses Corporation.

Arrested on April 11, 2019, the defendants first appeared before the Court the next day, when police asked for an additional 14-day extension while they finalise their investigations and hand over the case to prosecutors. During the second court session, prosecutors filed charges against them.

The charge that was filed last week says that the defendants allegedly caused the government to incur 24 million in losses 2017 and 2018 during a tender process involving Promising International.

The prosecutors also allege that the defendants caused supply shortages of wheat by delaying the procurement process and canceling the bid three times.

In the first attempt, the defendants cancelled the contract with Shakeel & Company, a Pakistani company that initially offered the lowest price, stating that the company did not submit a guarantee bond, according to the charge.

"Shakeel & Company couldn't bring [a] bank guarantee as the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia declined to provide the guarantee stating that the Bank does not have a cooperation agreement with banks in Pakistan," reads the charge.

The charge adds that the Pakistani company has asked for a 15-day extension to bring the guarantee from other banks and start the shipment of the wheat in the meantime. But the defendants cancelled the bid offer and re-floated the tender.

Promising was disqualified at the second offer for failing to include the shipment price of Ethiopian Shipping & Logistics Services Enterprise in its bid document. The second was cancelled in its entirety following an objection by Solomon Betre, former director of the procurement directorate at the Service, who disagreed about the exclusion of Promising from the bidding process.

This requirement follows a directive that was issued by the Office of the Prime Minister that ordered all shipments of wheat must be made on Ethiopian registered vessels to save foreign currency.

In the third attempt, Promising won the bid offering the lowest price. Although the company failed to submit the necessary bank guarantee bond for two months, Promising was awarded the contract, according to the charge, adding that the company has further withdrawn from the contract saying that it cannot import the wheat on Ethiopian registered vessels.

In a fourth attempt at the tender process, it is alleged that the defendants allowed Promising to participate, despite the fact that the company has caused the government to spend extra expenses by withdrawing from the contract, according to the prosecutors.

"In addition, the defendants awarded Promising to supply the wheat through another vessel, reversing the directive that was issued by the Prime Minister['s] Office," adds the charge.

The prosecutors also alleged that the defendants illegally awarded Promising a separate contract to supply two million quintals of wheat for 1.6 billion Br without a proper bidding process. The grain was part of four million quintals that was supposed to be procured by the National Disaster Risk Management Commission.

To support the allegations, the prosecutors filed a list of 19 witnesses and 43 separate pieces of documentary evidence.

After hearing the charge against them, the suspects appealed for bail, stating that they could not tamper with evidence as police have already wound down the probe.

The defendants, except for Yigezu, Solomon and Jonse Gedefu, former deputy director of the Service, appealed to have public defence after claiming that they cannot afford to hire a lawyer.

The prosecutors argued that the Anti-Corruption Proclamation of 2015 forbids bail rights to defendants who face seven to 15 years imprisonment if found guilty under the provision of the law that they are charged with.

The three-judge panel then denied bail to the defendants and adjourned the case to May 14, 2019, to receive the preliminary objection and statements of the defendants.

Ethiopia

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