Editor’s note: this story and the headline is edited to include the latest update
Prosecutors dropped demand for settlement payment After a second meeting held between prosecutors and the defense team today, which ended a short while ago, prosecutors have dropped their demands against Ermias Amelga and have agreed to issue a letter to the Federal High Court 15th Criminal Bench stating their decisions to terminate the trial of Ermias. Addis Standard has learnt.
Mahlet Fasil & Etenesh Abera
Addis Abeba/ February 26/2020 – Federal prosecutors who have filed corruption charges against business mogul Ermias T. Amelga have blocked his release from prison and are requesting a payment of settlement amounting to 21 million birr, Addis Standard has learnt. Ermias was listed at NO. 62 out of the total of 63 prisoners against whom the government has discontinued criminal charges.
According a source close to the matter, the defense team representing Ermias were called in on Tuesday afternoon and were at the fourth floor of the federal attorney general’s office, meeting prosecutors handling the businessman’s case. There they were told that Ermias was accused of causing a “serious financial damage” against the government and that the defense team should negotiate to pay a financial settlement to the tune of 21 million birr, “a proposal the defense team has refused to accept”, the source said, adding, “the defense team has refused to pay any settlement money demanded by the prosecutors and stated their intentions to proceed with the hearing until Ermias was free.”
There is a series of meeting taking place, including one this morning, between prosecutors and the defense team, but so far no conclusive outcome is reported.
The Federal Prison Administration office has confirmed that 62 of the 63 individuals whose charges were dropped have already been released, but the Qilinto prison, where Ermias is held at, and which is one of the federal prisons under the Federal Prison Administration, has not yet received a letter of clearance from the Federal Attorney General’s office, the Administration’s public relations bureau head, Geremew Ayalew, told a local radio.
Zinabu Tunu, Public Relations and Communications Affair Director at the Attorney General office, told Addis Standard that the matter was being handled by prosecutors from the federal Anti-Corruption Commission and that he has no knowledge about it. Zinabu is quoted as saying that Ermias will inevitably be released and that there was no change in the decision by the government to discontinue the corruption charges against him. However, there are “issues that needed to be checked.” Despite repeated attempts by Addis Standard since yesterday, prosecutors from the Federal Anti-Corruption Commission, who are handling the case, could not be reached for comments.
Ermias was accused of selling Imperial Hotel an an inflated price to METEC, an accusation her denied ever since criminal charges were formally pressed against him on January 15/2019. His case was first filed at the federal high court 10th criminal bench but later on, prosecutors said they have opened a new corruption charge against him at the 15th criminal bench and asked the judges at the 10th Criminal bench to close the initial file and transfer the case to the 15th criminal bench, where the case has since been tried.
During the last hearing, the judges at the 15th criminal bench have adjourned the case for yesterday, February 26, but when the defense team arrived at the court, they were told that the court has not received a letter stating the government’s decision to discontinue the charges. The prosecutors from the federal Anti Corruption Commission who filed the charges, did not show up at the hearing.
The charges at the 15th Criminal bench accuse Ermias of selling Imperial Hotel, which was owned by Access Real Estate, at a price of 75 million birr, which prosecutors said was an “inflated price.” They insisted the value for the hotel should have been 51 million birr and accused Erimias of conspiring with officials at the then MeTEC, which bought the hotel, to sell the property at inflated prices without competitive bidding.
Ermias insisted that Access Real Estate S.C, a company he co-owned, had bought the hotel for 60 million birr and said his share of the hotel was a mere 5% in what was owned by more than 6, 000 shareholders.
The government’s decision to terminate the charges against all the 63 was announced on Tuesday February 25 both by Zinabu and Fikad Tsega, Federal Attorney General Cross-Border Crimes Directorate Director. AS