By Kirubel Tadesse
A federal judge, Zerihun Bode, was sacked this week by parliament in a consequence for a ruling he made, sending one of the country’s leading businessman, Getu Gelete, free after facing serious charges.
Federal prosecutors charged Getu, owner of Getu Commercial Center and shareholder of GetAs International Plc, with fraudulent misrepresentation and arbitrary action on July, 2010 following a complaint by Helen Anbesso to the Addis Ababa Police Commission.
The Federal Prosecutor charged the defendant with fraud related to transferring his lease right of 41,930 square meters of land located at Bole Sub City that he obtained for a real estate development project, to Helen Anbesso for 12 million 579 thousand birr.
The prosecutor said Helen began construction and spent around four million birr, and she was prevented from taking her construction materials, worth an estimated 270,000 birr out of the construction site.
Accepting Getu’s lawyer, Million Assefa’s call to drop the charges on the grounds that it was a civil case and not a criminal one, Judge Zerihun Bode threw out the case. It turns out that the Judge was partial to the lawyer Million who is the ruling party’s Member of Parliament.
“The lawyer is prominent in the country,” Zerihun was quoted saying by the Federal Judges Administration Council who investigated a disciplinary misconduct complaint filed by Helen against the judge, after his ruling made before the prosecutor could present its evidence.
The judge rejected any misconduct and said the charges were dropped not only because the circumstances do not entail a criminal liability but because the allegations of the prosecution do not meet the elements of the criminal law provision that they charged the defendant with.
After a thorough investigation including a chance given to judge Zerihun to refute the complaints, the Federal Judges Administration Council members including the Justice Minister Berhan Hailu unanimously decided to fire him for what they call a grave incompetence and partiality he showed while presiding on Getu’s case.
“The judge failed to interpret the law accurately, and didn’t show impartiality,” the Council said.
“He was an honoree law graduate in an undergraduate program and obtained a second degree. His career started in 2003 and he has been a federal judge since 2007. We are also wondering how he could get it wrong,” said Tesfaye Daba, an MP who read the Council’s decision to the House while responding to MPs stunned by the reported incompetence.
“I was on a taxi when I heard this case’s ruling on the news and I said this cannot happen in this country. Now I would like to congratulate the plaintiff [Helen] for taking the challenge and seeking her full right all this way. Firing the judge is ok, but is that it?” a ruling MP commented.
MPs including the opposition MP Girma Seifu also questioned the decision’s significance as the judge has already submitted his resignation.
Asmelash Woldeselassie, chairman of the legal and administrative affairs of the House, tired to clear what he says could be a misunderstanding: “We are not overturning a ruling or we don’t have any evidence to suggest that there has been any corruption of any sort. What the council said is the judge didn’t interpret the law as he should have and that revealed incompetence. We cannot overturn courts’ decision – as per the law, authoritative superior courts only can do those actions.”
“It is good we are making sure citizens enjoy their full rights and even judges can be held accountable. My question is if such misconduct was seen and the judge’s decision wasn’t a fair one, why the state prosecutor did not appeal to a higher court?” member of parliament Dr. Ashebir WoldeGiorgis asked.
Nobody offered a concrete answer except to say ‘that is a separate case.’
In another decision taken during the session, the House endorsed Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s appointment of a new deputy chief justice.
Meles appointed a former rebel colleague, Medhin Kiros, as deputy president of the federal supreme court- a position MenbereTeshay Tadesse resigned from a few months ago.