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News: Court allows prosecutors to press criminal charges against suspects in fraudulent attempt to withdraw over $6M from AU bank account

Clergyman Belay Mekonnen, the main suspect, and two others are facing criminal and corruption charges. Photo: Screenshot

Addis Abeba – The Federal First Instance Court, Arada Division in the capital Addis Abeba, has given a green light to the federal prosecutors to initiate criminal charges against Clergyman Belay Mekonnen and two others suspected of involvement in a failed fraudulent attempt to withdraw over $6M from the African Union (AU) bank account at the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE), located inside AU headquarters in the capital.

On Wednesday, the AU issued an official statement admitting fraudulent attempt which has failed due to “the vigilance and swift action of the CBE staff and our finance department.”

On 15 April, “…a series of Payment Transfer Orders were submitted to the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, at their Branch located within the African Union Headquarters, in Addis Abeba. The Payment Transfer Orders were submitted by an individual who is not an employee of the African Union. These orders designated substantial funds to various recipients under the premise of construction and water drilling works, amounting to over US Dollars 6 million,” the AU said.

The investigating police accused the main suspect Clergyman Belay Mekonnen, deputy general manager at the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church (EOTC) Patriarchate, and two others – Yared Fisseha and Dhaba Genana – of alleged involvement in a “coordinated and organized criminal act” during a hearing held on 24 April. The court allowed the police eight more days to remand and investigate the suspects and adjourned the hearing until today.

Accordingly, the Federal Police has announced in today’s hearing that the investigations have been completed and the case files transferred to federal prosecutors at the Ministry of Justice’s Directorate of Corruption Affairs, who have confirmed receiving the files and requested the court for 15 days to initiate the formal criminal procedure against the accused.

Furthermore, prosecutors informed the court that since the alleged crime was using fake documents to defraud the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia the indictment charges may include a corruption case. If convicted, the suspects could face up to 10 years prison term, according to the prosecutors.

Defense lawyers objected to the 15 days of additional time granted to the prosecutors to file the charges saying that an investigation was already carried out by the police. Additionally, they also objected to the 10 years of prison time estimated by the prosecutors while there is the absence of formal charges.

Defense lawyers also objected to the possibility of initiating a corruption procedure as inappropriate since the fraudulent document was submitted to a foreign company’s bank account which cannot be treated under the country’s anti-corruption proclamation. The 2nd and 3rd suspects were kept in custody while facing no accusation of involvement in the case. But prosecutors insisted the two suspects were co-conspirators of the alleged crime.

After examining the argument on both sides, the court declined the request for bail from the defense team and allowed the 15 days requested by prosecutors to press the charges and for the suspects to remain in custody. AS

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