Court grills parties in Melaku Fenta, et al case

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Addis Ababa, 16 May 2014 (WIC) – The Federal High Court fifteenth criminal bench grilled both sides in the high profile corruption case involving Melaku Fenta and 65 other defendants for clarifications before ruling whether the prosecution’s charges should be amended or not.

The court was expected to make the ruling today but judges instead sought for explanations from prosecutors and lawyers of some of the defendants including Melaku’s and his co-defendant Gebrewahid Gebregiorgis.

Judges said the inputs from prosecutors and lawyers would help them finalize the ruling, which is now expected to be rendered when the court reconvenes on May 23, 2014.

The court’s queries included issues of criminal irresponsibility versus criminal liability and double jeopardy, an issue raised by some defendants citing other pending cases in other courts over the same issue and hence requesting the court to reject the prosecution’s charge.

Concurrence of crimes in relation to the offenses of ‘possession of unexplained property’ and ‘money laundering’ and the legality of the Federal Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission (FEACC) to file criminal suits on offenses which it is not mandated to by law such as tax related offenses. These, in particular, were raised to the prosecutors of the commission.

It has been more than a year since the defendants were detained but they are yet to enter a plea and examination of witnesses has not started.

However, judges said hearing witnesses will be carried out in daily court sessions after the court renders its ruling on amendment of charges.

The majority of the defendants are detained at Kality after they were denied bail soon after their detention last year. In an announcement made in court today, the administrative wing of the Federal High Court has decided to hold the trial of this case at its branch in Kality.

The defendants include senior government officials mostly from the Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority (ERCA), businessmen, commission agents and brokers.

The charges include corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, illegal possession of arms and failure to register property. Of the 66 defendants, four are being tried in absentia including Getu Gelete, founder and major shareholder of GetAs International Plc, a company also charged by FEACC in one of the three criminal dockets.

Ketema Kebede, owner of KK Trading, is another top businessman in the country who is among the list of defendants under detention. He was absent from court today as he is receiving medical attention for an unspecified illness at a hospital in Addis Ababa, according to an officer from the prison administration.