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Ethiopian Attorney General files charges related to the 6,450-MW Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project

The Federal High Court in Ethiopia has charged 50 people with corruption and alleged misuse of public power with relation to the 6,450-MW Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, multiple news agencies are reporting.

GERD is designed to be the centerpiece of the Horn of Africa country’s bid to become the continent’s biggest power exporter. However, it faces considerable controversy, not the least of that being a deadlock between the three affected countries – Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia – over operation of the project.

Those named in the current charges include Azeb Asnake, former chief executive officer of Ethiopian Electric Power; Bireda Maru, portfolio manager with EEP; Colonel Mulu Woldegebriel, former deputy director general of Metals Engineering Corporation (METEC); and Lieutenant Colonel Solomon Berhe, head of corporate new business development finance administration for METEC.

The charges were filed Dec. 27 during the Fourth Anti-Corruption Bench and say that METEC and EEP signed a contract in 2007 (reports on contract value differ, from $160 million to $182 million) to clear the forest around the project site and make the land ready. However, the contractual agreement is poorly done, Political Analysis South Africa reported. Asnake and Maru and other employees are accused of failing to take managerial action for the poorly completed job. They are reported to have endorsed full payment for the job, which was only accomplished by about 30%, and embezzling more than $35 million in public resources.

The charges allege that METC officials, including Woldegebriel, partnered with EEP officials to embezzle the allocated budget for the forest clearing work.

In addition, “another 37 managers of private construction companies were accused of involvement in embezzlement of the public resources without delivering on their mandate based on the contractual agreement,” according to Political Analysis South Africa. Berhe is accused of paying $17 million to 37 construction contractors for jobs that were partially and poorly executed, and legal procurement procedures were not followed.

Political Analysis South Africa says four of the 50 suspects heard the charges in person, while the majority “are still at large.”

The Ethiopian News Agency reported on this briefly, saying Asnake was “sacked in August 2018.”

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project also covered this news, with details similar to those above. This website said Asnake “was forced to resign” in September 2018 and in November 2018 “Ethiopian authorities arrested dozens of intelligence officers and high-level officials from METEC, on charges of graft and human-rights abuses.” A total of 63 people were arrested in November 2018.

“An investment into procurement processes at state-run METEC revealed that for six years the corporation allegedly made international procurements totaling $2 billion without competitive bidding processes,” the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project says. “Following such findings, in August last year the Ethiopian government ended the METEC’s involvement in the GERD project.”