Reporter : By Mikias Sebsibe
Tesfaye Biru (Ph.D.), former CEO of Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC), and 16 other defendants were found guilty of corruption on Wednesday in connection with a mobile telecom expansion project awarded to Eriksson, the Swedish telecom giant, in 2004.
Prosecutors of the Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (FEACC) charged 24 individuals, including 11 senior management officials of ETC, in June 2008 at the 1st Criminal Bench of the Federal High Court. The prosecution’s charge alleged that the defendants, contrary to procurement directives of the corporation, awarded Eriksson a turn-key project intended to serve 600,000 customers. The defendants were accused of awarding the procurement deal, which amounted to USD 47.4 million and 9.1 million in local currency, to the Swedish company despite knowing that the latter had poor performance after sales service. As a result of a delay in the project the government lost revenue of one billion to 1.5 billion birr, prosecutors of the Commission also claimed in their charge.
The former CEO was slapped with two more charges – for an additional cost sustained by ETC in the amount of 8.2 million birr for the provision of four solar energy generators to Eriksson, a cost which, according to the prosecution, was supposed to be borne by the latter as well as for raising the procurement amount to USD 47.4 million and 9.1 million birr from the one agreed by the management committee (USD 43.7 million and 7.6 million birr).
The criminal bench, which was presided over by three judges, exonerated seven defendants who were serving as the chair and members of the bid evaluation committee a year ago without the need to defend the prosecution’s charge.
Just three weeks after acquitting the former CEO and 14 other defendants of another corruption charge, the criminal bench, presided over by judges Mustafa Ahmed, Yohannes Gesyas and Tium Gebru, convened on Tuesday for a verdict on the second corruption charge in connection with the tender awarded to Eriksson.
The court, rejecting the majority of the defense’s argument, found all the defendants guilty. However, the court rejected the prosecution’s claim over the lost revenue which it argued was incurred as a result of the delay in the execution of the project. “The projects that were delayed were those outside Addis Ababa,” said Judge Mustafa. “Hence the delay is not attributed to the tender but to other factors in connection with civil works.”
After a legal wrangle that spanned two years, the court found Tesfaye and two other defendants guilty as charged while the other 14 defendants were found guilty under a provision entailing a lesser aggravating circumstance.
The case was adjourned for Tuesday for the submission of the two sides on sentencing.
Tesfaye, et al, who gained acquittal on a separate corruption charge on December 24, last year, are also awaiting a verdict on two separate corruption charges instituted by prosecutors of the commission.
Following the alleged corruption scandal four years ago, ETC fired over 20 employees, including those in executive positions. Tesfaye, who was appointed as CEO of ETC in January 2003, was removed from his post in May 2006.