Ethiopia: More Charges Against Suspected Illegal Phone Operators

Telecoms

Prosecutors of the Federal Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (FEAC) amended the charge they had brought against individuals they accused of running businesses that facilitated the placing of illegal international telephone calls, and added two more defendants, on Tuesday, January 12, 2011.

Following a three-month investigation, the prosecutors had initially charged 15 individuals with the maladministration of government work and corruption that cost the government and the public 16.2 million Br.

The individuals sold software and calling cards that allowed users to make international telephone calls that only Ethio-Telecom, the government owned telecommunications company, is allowed to provide; they also circumvented the technical protocols put in place to make the offence impossible, the prosecutors had claimed.

The charge was amended by prosecutors entering more documents and testimonies into evidence and adding more defendants to the suit, and approved by the Federal High Court.

The defendants added to the suit were Samuel Tesfaye and Abaynesh Mohammed who the prosecutors claimed were involved in the alleged commissioning of placing illegal international telephone calls. The whereabouts of both defendants are unknown.

The charge against Kalab Tesfaye, the fifth defendant mentioned in the suit, was amended to charge him with working with the newly added ones in commissioning the offence. All the defendants, except three who were charged in absentia, received a copy of the amended charge.

During the hearing, Biniam Megabi, who is in police custody and was present in the court despite not being among those charged, claimed that his was a case of a mistaken identity. He had been confused with the second defendant mentioned in the case, Biniam Girma, who used to work as a network administration engineer at the then Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC) and who was not in custody at the time the charge was instituted, he argued through his lawyer.

"Although my client worked for ETC, his position and full name was not the same as the defendant mentioned in the case," his defence argued. The prosecutors were ordered by the court to clear up the confusion and reply to the allegation by the next session. The case was adjourned to January 27, 2011, when the defence is to present its statements.

If the Ethiopian Government liberalized its market, it would be double its current size and it would not need to spend time and money on trials like this one.