Justices of the Supreme Court have ruled acquitting Fikru Maru (MD), a cardiovascular specialist and hospital owner, overruling an earlier conviction of corruption given by a lower court which sentenced him to four years and eight months.
An appeal lodged by Fikru pleading reversal of the ruling rendered by judges at the Federal High Court has culminated in exonerated him from charges after he has served four years of his jail term. On May 3, 2017, the Justices ruled the defendant was free from charges brought against him by prosecutors from the Federal Ethics & Anti-Corruption Commission.
A pioneer in a cardiovascular treatment facility in the country, Fikru was accused of taking part in violation of the provision of maladministration that involves the importation of around 32 types of medical equipment. He was accused of importing the medical equipment from Sweden, without permits, for the Addis Cardiovascular Hospital, the first cardiovascular specialised hospital in Ethiopia which he founded and remains a major shareholder.
Estimated to cost over 350,000 Br, the equipment was brought in on November 10, 2010, through Bole International Airport but officials from the Ethiopian Revenues & Customs Authority (ERCA) decided to return it back claiming it had no permits from the Ministry of Health. ERCA, which prosecuted Fikru alleging contraband import after the incident, withdrew its charges, securing no barring of subsequent proceedings. Later on, Melaku Fenta, former director general of ERCA, and his deputy, Gebrwahid Gebregiorgis, decided to release the equipment after considering the philanthropic nature of the imports and the expert roles of Fikru. A letter signed by Melaku had secured the release of the imported equipment to the hospital.
However, this decision was the nucleus of the charge, which claimed that the other two principal defendants had given the decision to withdraw the case against Fikru after he bribed them with 200,000 Br each, the charge alleged.
The two former senior officials of ERCA remain in prison fighting a series of corruption charges, along with several staff members of ERCA and as many businesspeople.
The 15th Criminal Bench of the Federal High Court presided by Berihun Teweldebrhan, Temesgen Wendmagegn and Hailu Irrago, heard testimonies from two witnesses and examined material evidence, including the letter signed by Melaku. They unanimously passed a guilty verdict on Fikru on October 21, 2016. Judges gave the defendant a four-year-and-eight month imprisonment, in addition to a 60,000 Br fine, which was paid the following day.
Fikru lodged his appeal to the Supreme Court in December 2016, beseeching reversal or otherwise reduction of his sentence. Fikru pleaded in his appeal that the High Court’s guilty verdict was illegal since he was convicted while the alleged principal offenders, Melaku and Gebrewahid, continue to defend themselves. Fikru has also appealed that his right to a fair trial had been denied by the High Court, for after the Bench compactly consolidated the case and rejected his appeal for separation of the unrelated cases of 21 suspects, having many separate cases to him which dragged the court’s pace to judge him swiftly, according to the appellate pleading.
Presided by Justices Shimekt Assefa, Getaye Endalew and Omar Mohammed, the Supreme Court ultimately reversed High Court’s ruling, arguing that it backslid on evidence administration of the country’s criminal justice system.
The High Court’s judgment is overruled for not taking into consideration the accepted norms of weighing evidence to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in a sufficient manner, reads the ruling.
Represented by Abebe Eshetu and Zewdneh Zebene, Fikru was the first to win such major victory from the highest court in the nation from the defendants fighting corruption charges brought against Melaku and et al. But he will remain in jail fighting criminal charges under the anti-terrorism law. Together with 37 other defendants, he is charged for alleged participation in causing a fire accident inside Qilinto federal prison which led to the death of more than 25 inmates, nine months ago. The fire also caused an estimated 15 million Br in property damages, according to a report by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.
The case is adjourned for May 22, 2017, for prosecutors from the Attorney General Office to present their witnesses.