Judges at the Regional High Court in Bahir Dar, the seat of Amhara Regional State, ruled to continue presiding over the cases of Berket Simon and Tadesse Kassa, former executives of Tiret Corporate, who were arrested under suspected acts of corruption.
Apprehended last Wednesday in Addis Abeba at their homes by the regional police and with the assistance of the Federal Police, both were transported to Bahir Dar on the same day and detained at one of the police stations.
Berket is being held as a suspect for allegedly misusing 35 million Br of public money while he worked as board chairperson of Tiret, the business conglomerate that has affiliation with the Amhara Democratic Party. Tadesse is also accused of the same charge that he allegedly committed while running the business as a CEO.
Investigators of the Amhara Regional State Anti-Corruption Commission brought the suspects before the regional court last Friday morning. The investigators accused the suspects of allegedly misusing and squandering public treasure operating through five subsidiaries and two wings of the corporation – Tiret Social Development and Tiret Investment.
Headquartered in Bahir Dar, Tiret was established with seed money supplied by the former Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) and 25 of its founding members. These individuals were prominent members of EPRDF during the armed struggle against the Marxist military government. Following the downfall of the Dergue, the assets under ANDM’s control were transferred to Tiret, which now runs subsidiary companies involved in the transport, brewery, agriculture, trading, communications and logistics businesses.
The Commission accused the suspects of allegedly ordering illegal procurements that did not follow proper bidding procedures, purchasing shares with inflated values and granting loans to non-member companies of the Corporation.
The investigators, who based their allegations on audit reports that were concluded on January 10, 2018, assert that the suspects allegedly compelled the company to enter into partnerships with five other companies and individuals without commissioning proper feasibility studies and conducting due diligence.
During the tenure of the two suspects, Tiret paid 13.9 million Br to acquire shares in LA Palma Plc; 16 million Br for Bahir Dar Motors Assembly S.C; 1.4 million Br for Beyida Sustainable Chemicals Plc; made a 70 percent payment for Jari Water Plc; and 3.4 million Br for Istanbul Gazmanove, according to the investigators.
“Even though the Corporation made payments and expenditures, none of the five companies became operational,” claim the investigators.
The investigators also stated that they are probing Dashen Breweries and Juventus, which is still pending.
After reading their suspicions against the suspects, investigators requested an additional 14-day extension to keep the suspects in custody for their probes into the matter, collect and organise documents, gather further evidence and await the outcome of audit reports on two other subsidiary companies of the Corporation.
The investigators also requested that the judges deny bail to the suspects, stating that they could potentially tamper with evidence, coerce witnesses and destroy documents before prosecutors file charges against them.
The suspects appealed that the court reject the additional detention request made by the investigators, stating that they have enough documents and evidence in hand to file charges. They also appealed to the court that their case be reviewed by a federal court, mentioning that they suffer from serious health problems, which necessitated close assistance from their family members who are in Addis Abeba.
In their first appearance before the court, both had no legal representation. Tadesse, who has served as chairperson at Dashen Brewery and Abay Bank, said that he would be representing himself.
Berket, who was a communication minister, an adviser to the Prime Minister and who later served as a director at the Policy Studies & Research Centre, stated that he needs to consult with his family to hire lawyers due to his financial condition. Bereket, the founding CEO of Tiret, resigned from his post two years ago after serving the Corporation for over two decades.
After hearing both sides, the judges at the regional court rejected the request to transfer the case to a federal court, asserting that the company is located in the Amhara Regional State. The judges granted the 14-day extension requested by investigators to keep the accused in custody and adjourned the case to February 8, 2019.
An independent legal practitioner with 17 years of expriance agrees with the judges’ ruling in deciding to retain jurisdiction over the case at the regional level.
“Even if the alleged crime is a federal issue but committed at regional states, the courts in the regions have the power to keep it under their prerogatives,” said Gemechu Gutemma.
Whenever federal officials are suspected of crimes, their case will be reviewed in the high courts, as the former precedence of hearing cases at the Federal Supreme Court level was reversed by the House of Federation following Melaku Fanta’s case, according to Gemechu.
“When federal officials accused of crimes are brought before high courts,” said Gemechu, “so, the regional court can retain jurisdiction over the case. “
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