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Federal Judges Drop Objections by Melaku Fenta, Codefendants

Judges at the Federal High Court have rejected preliminary objections made by defendants of a high profile corruption saga involving senior tax officials and prominent businessmen. Upon ruling on the objections of the defendants charged under three separate files, judges rejected on Friday the entire objections under the first file, while accepting most of the objections by the defendants under the third file.

Twenty four defendants, including Melaku Fenta, former director general of the Ethiopian Revenues & Customs Authority (ERCA); and Gebrewahed W. Giorgis, his deputy in charge of Law Enforcement Division of the ERCA; and several prominent businessmen have been fighting 93 criminal charges after accused of series of crimes in maladministration, misuse of power, illegal possessions of firearms and ammunitions.

Prosecutors from the Federal Ethics & Anti Corruption Commission (FEACC) allege the senior government officials have conspired with the businessmen accused to ensure pending criminal charges were terminated in favour of the latter. This was in addition to providing undue benefits to their co-defendants, prosecutors claim.

Belachew Beyene, former auditor at ERCA, and Markeneh Alemayehu, former deputy prosecutor, are charged along with prominent businessmen such as Nega Gebreegziabher of Netsa Trading Plc, Ketema Kebede of K.K. Trading Plc, and Fikru Maru (MD), founder and CEO of the Addis Cardiac Hospital.

All of the defendants under the three files have raised almost similar objections in their statement of defenses submitted on February 6 and 17, 2014. The defense teams objected to the charges filed against their clients, challenging the power of the Commission to file charges of criminal nature related to taxation, the generality of the charges they are accused of, as well as inconsistency between the charges and the details there under.

Upon objecting to the charges, the defendants pleaded to judges for the consolidation of the charges made under three files by the Commission’s prosecutors, the inclusion of specific details such as time, place and in some cases, the amounts in the charges as well as the separation of the charges presented under similar file.

Companies where defendants have major shares, such as Netsa Trading Plc, K.K. Plc, GetAs Plc, Comet Plc and JH Simex Plc, through their lawyers have also appealed the Court to treat them separately from individual defendants in the case.

Nonetheless, the Court during its session on May 30, 2014, has rejected the claims from all the defendants.

Different from the other defendants, Melaku and Gebrewahid have presented their objections in relations to the allegations of terminating investigation files and criminal probes while in office. They argued that they were entrusted with the power of terminating investigations by law. However, the Court rejected their claim reasoning that they are not accused of terminating investigations per se, rather the charges made have accused them of motives while terminating these investigations.

Under the second file where eight defendants, including Melaku, Gebrewahid and Belachew, were accused of 17 charges, defendants raised objections similar to the first file. Rejecting most of the objections, judges have accepted two, which appealed for the amendment of two charges presented without details. Prosecutors were ordered to present evidence to show incomes of Melaku since his employment with ERCA, and other revenue sources if he has any to establish allegations that he has amassed wealth over his legitimate earnings.

Under the third docket where 28 criminal counts are constituted against 32 defendants, including Melaku, Gebrewahid and Belachew, judges ordered for the amendment of the charges.

Judges have reasoned that the objections by the defendants under the third file are appropriate and thereby ordered for the amendment and separation of the charges. They have ordered prosecutors to present their evidences in separation corresponding to the charges since evidence under the present files are not separately presented.

Ruling on the preliminary objections by defendants under all the three files, the Court has adjourned the hearing of all for June 10, 2014.

Friday was a trial day that has seen the nonattendance of Ketema; the court was told he has been admitted to a hospital. Ketema has been admitted to the Federal Police Hospital for couple of weeks now, family sources have confirmed to Fortune. Another defendant, Tadesse Feyisa, ERCA’s staff at Modjo Dry Port Co-ordination Office, and whose case was being heard in ex-parte, appeared before the 15th Criminal Bench of the High Court on Friday.

A wrong surname of Tadesse stated in the charge has caused his non-appearance, according to judges. Nonetheless, his case cannot be seen by separate trial rather will be tried along with the other defendants, according to judges’ ruling.

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