On January 9, 2019, Federal investigators have arrested Ermyas Amelga, Diaspora returnee and former investment banker, founder of Access Real Estate, Zemen Bank, in connection with an ongoing corruption probe on the former executive of Metals & Engineering Corporation (METEC). Ermyas was arrested on suspicion of transferring the former Imperial Hotel to METEC for 72 million Br, without a proper procurement process. Ermyas appeared before the 10th Criminal Bench of the Federal High Court on Friday, January 11, along with other senior executives of METEC.
-Arrest on False Grounds and Misleading Charges
The facts indicate that Ermyas arrest itself was made on inaccurate premises. Charges against him claim that government has suffered a loss of 20 million birr (again ignoring accurate purchase and sales price and VAT charges). Also ignoring fact that due to escalating real estate prices, the current value of Imperial Hotel is now estimated to be over 300 million birr.
In response to the charge that he brought a hotel for 60 million birr and sold it for 72 million birr, resulting in a 20 million birr loss to government, Ermyas has said in court, that there is always this consistent omission of the sales figure breakdown by police/prosecutors to exaggerate the sales price and strengthen the case against him. The difference in sales price is due to VAT and interest payments, for which there is evidence.
Ermyas explained in court, as CEO of Access Real Estate (ARE), he sold Imperial Hotel, previously purchased from Asfaw Tefera’s family, for 60 million birr (47 million cash and 13 million to cover existing hotel debt) to METEC, in 2013, for 61.2 million birr (net of VAT). There was also a payment plan included to be implemented over an 18 month period. After including 2.5 million birr in bank interest payments, there is actually a loss of 1.2 million birr to ARE/Ermyas on the sale. Again actual sales price to METEC was 61.2 million, and then 10.8 million was added for VAT, bringing the total sales price to METEC to 72 million birr.
-Ermyas’s Lawyer’s Response
(i) The charges made against Ermyas are under criminal legislation codes 111 and 112 but they don’t provide the evidence for these charges. There is no reference to the time and place where the alleged crimes took place. There is also no explanation how the alleged crimes directly or indirectly took place took place as required by criminal code 32 (1);
(i) – Ethiopia operates a free market economy. What is the barometer that the Attorney General is using when he is charging Ermyas with selling the hotel at an exorbitant price? One can’t be charged with corruption for selling a property at a higher price than was purchased. The sale was taken in an open and transparent manner. Before the property was fully transferred to ARE, METEC stepped in and purchased it directly from the original owner representative. This means that Ermyas, representing ARE, was removed from this transaction.
(iii) – Knowing that the final sale was between METEC and the original property owner, Asfaw Terefe, the Attorney General should not try and make Ermyas legally accountable for this transaction and cannot cite him as guilty for any crime under legislation they have cited.
(iv) – Since it is not a crime to sell property registered under ones name/company’s name and the Attorney General’s office has no evidence to support the charges they have made, the court should dismiss the charges they made and release Ermyas.
-Denial of Bail
Ermyas’s lawyer has appealed to the Supreme Court for bail rights, only to be told, that the District Attorney A may link the case to possible corruption activities so bail can’t be allowed.
How is it that one of the METEC officials originally part of the group, charges is quietly acquitted while defendants like, Ermyas, simple business man, arrested without any evidence, cannot even be allowed bail rights?
UPDATE ON ERMYAS’S CASE
-Regression of the Judicial Process
On December 27, 2019. Ermyas and lawyer appeared in court, nearly a year after being in jail. The court, in July had asked for almost 3 months to deliberate and provided a verdict on Tikemt (October) 20. Since then they asked for two extensions, on December 27, when they had promised to make a final decision, AGAIN they asked for a month extension, with a list of reports that they needed.
Some of the data relates to, again, the building assessment of Imperial Hotel- (assessment was provided 5-6 months ago). The judges had almost 5 months to raise these questions, why at the time of verdict is this being asked? It was clear that this information was missing when witness cross examination (in Ermyas case, mostly property valuation experts) was taking place back in July.
In addition, a lot of the additional data they are requesting does not even relate to Ermyas’s case. Given the strategy to annex him to the 10 METEC officials- he will again be dragged along with them…These actions demonstrate a deliberate strategy to drag out the judicial process ensuring Ermyas gets dragged on with the lawsuits against the 10 other defendants.
QUESTIONS THAT NEED AN URGENT RESPONSE
-Why is a simple hotel sale (Actually resulting in a net loss to Access Real Estate) treated as a crime on par with charges leveled at high level METEC officials accused of billion dollar corruption activities, without any evidence?
-Why is Ermyas Amelga still kept in jail, denied bail, one year later, WITH THESE VAGUE, UNSUBSTANTIATED CHARGES?
-Is there a strategy to keep him in jail while the other 10 cases are being processed?
-What is behind this continuing miss-carriage of justice- in this era of democratic reform?
IS UPHOLDING HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM NOT PART OF ETHIOPIA CURRENT REFORM PROGRAM?
JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED!
THIS CASE REPRESENTS A RED FLAG FOR POTENTIAL INVESTORS DIASPORA OR OTHERWISE:
PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!
WE DEMAND THE IMMEDIATE RELEASE OF ERMYAS AMELGA
THIS STATEMENT IS PREPARED BY SUPPORTERS OF ERMYAS AMELGA