Witness examination begins in Melaku Fenta et al case

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Addis Ababa, 9 July 2014 (WIC) – The grand corruption case involving high profile figures including Melaku Fenta moves into witness examination as the first prosecution witness took the stand on Tuesday.

The first witness, a woman in her late twenties, was called to the stand to testify against three officials of Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority (ERCA) and a businessman.

The officials included ERCA’s former director general Melaku and Deputy Director General of Enforcement Gebrewahid Gebretsadik as well as ERCA’s Tax Audit Directorate director Belachew Beyene.

The officials are accused of suspending investigations against Simachew Kebede, owner of Intercontinental Hotel, who, allegedly, abused duty free privileges.

Prosecutors allege that Simachew illegally transferred to third parties equipments imported to the country with duty privilege for investments in Hotel and tourism services.

Intercontinental Hotel is among ten hotels where ERCA auditors conducted ‘surprise’ visits four years ago following intelligence reports of an abuse of duty free privileges.

The witness brought before court yesterday said she was a member of the team which was assigned to Interncontinental Hotel where, she testified, equipment worth over nine million birr was unaccounted for.

“Some six months later, our bosses told us to go and audit again. At first, we refused because it defeats the purpose of conducting a surprise audit,” she told the court adding that the order was communicated to them ‘orally’.

According to her testimony, their second audit revealed a property worth some eight million birr unaccounted for.

After cross examination, the witness said it was Belachew who told them to conduct the second audit adding that there was no direct order from Melaku or Gebrewahid.

Cross examination of the witness will continue this afternoon, with two more prosecution witnesses expected to take the stand.

The prosecution has named nine witnesses to prove their case. However, the defense team argued that one of the named witnesses, Eshetu Woldesemayat, former prosecution directorate director at ERCA, should not be allowed to testify.

Eshetu was among the list of suspects arrested last year along with Melaku. He was released after four months of detention.

The defense team argued that Eshetu’s testimony will not be impartial.

“His will be a testimony given to distance oneself from criminal liability,” argued one of Melaku’s lawyers adding that Eshetu was among defendants charged with corruption.

However, the prosecution denied filing charges against Eshetu and hence there was no reason to suggest he would be partial which the court accepted. Eshetu will be expected to take the stand on Thursday.