UPDATE - Court grants 14 days for investigation in Melaku Fenta et al case, denies bail

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Addis Ababa, May 14 (WIC) – The second criminal bench of the Federal High Court has denied bail to Minister Melaku Fenta, Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority (ERCA) Director General, his deputy Gebrewahid Woldegiorgis and 17 others accused of corruption in two separate cases.
The court, presided over by three judges, accepted the appeal made yesterday by investigators of the Federal Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission (FEACC) to be granted 14 days to conduct further investigations.

The suspects arrived to court at Lidetta this afternoon under security while large crowds gathered outside the court as the first batch of suspects were ushered to the courtroom.
First to enter the court were the seven suspects in the first case which included Melaku. In the previous hearing the suspects in this case have requested to be released on bail. Melaku’s lawyer had also challenged the arrest of his client who he argued was still protected by legal immunity as a member of the Addis Ababa City Cabinet.
The court, which denied bail to all the suspects, said Melaku’s right to legal immunity was not corroborated by evidence and ordered proof of immunity to be submitted to court by Friday, May 17, 2013.

The second case, which featured Gebrewahid and 10 others until yesterday, saw the inclusion of another suspect, Tewelde Fisseha whom FEACC prosecutors said was apprehended yesterday in connection with the same investigation.   
Gebrewahid and his wife Haimanot Tesfay (Col.), this time represented by Gezahegn Fikre, requested a right of bail. Gebrewahid, through his lawyer, also said media reports are infringing his right to be presumed innocent and could also create undue influence on the proceeding. His lawyer requested for a media gag.
The other suspect in the case, Mihireteab Abraha, brother of former TPLF veteran Seyee Abraha, said he is not aware of why he is arrested and described the allegations  “a joke”.

Suspects also complained that their constitutional rights to be visited by family members, legal representatives and doctors are being infringed despite yesterday’s court order. Lawyers also complained that they have not been able to consult with their clients.
When asked to respond, the three members of the investigation team said they only allow visitation on Wednesdays and Fridays. They said they have also communicated yesterday’s court order to their supervisors.

After some grilling, judges allowed suspects to consult with their lawyers in the courtroom. Later, judges also ordered the person in charge of prison administration, Commander Berhane Abebe,  to be summoned before court on Friday and explain why suspects denied to meet their visiters.
However, the court accepted the arguments of the investigators who argued against granting bail to the suspects.
“We have come to an understanding that the complexity of the investigation merits the need to grant more time for investigation. We have also found it fitting to deny the suspects bail rights due to their position in society,” the court held.

The third case which included six suspects in connection with activities in Nazareth Customs Office is also adjourned to Friday.
The court deferred the case to allow the suspects consult their lawyers, which they complained were prevented from doing so by authorities who have detained.
The suspects in this case are accused of permitting contraband goods to enter into Addis Ababa without undergoing proper customs clearance.
The first two cases are adjourned to May 27, 2013.

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