While the parties signed the lending agreement, the title deed of the seven-storey building located in Bole District was held as collateral.

Seven individuals and three companies face charges for alleged money laundering, illegal remittance services and usury crimes. The Federal Attorney-General filed the charge, which has eight counts, at the Federal High Court Lideta Division two weeks ago.

Azeb Mehreteab, founder of JJ Properties and Boston Real Estate; Temesgen Yilma, the general Manager at TTH Trading Plc; Haregewoin Tedla, an American citizen; and Efrem Mulatu, an actor, are among the defendants. The aforementioned three companies are also included in the charge.

The first count, which has Azeb, Haregewoin and Efrem as defendants, claims that the defendants were involved in alleged usury crimes. Haileyesus Mengistu, founder of The Big Apple International, owner of New York Café & R humanitarian estaurant, and Cosmo Trading, signed a 50-million-Br loan agreement with Azeb on behalf of the first defendant, Haregewoin, at nine percent of usurious rates for six months, according to the charge. Efrem signed onto the agreement as a witness.

As collateral, the lender took the title deed of a seven-storey building, which is owned by Haileyesus and is estimated to be worth 250 million Br. About 3.2 million Br of it was transferred from Azeb into Haileyesus's account, according to the charge. With the main aim of making the transition look legal, Azeb then prepared documents that show JJ Properties bought the building for 60 million Br, claims the charge. Ephrem and Azeb signed as witnesses on the agreement, which Haileyesus did not sign, claims the charge.

After noticing Haileyesus did not sign the agreement, the defendants charged him by claiming that he took 19.8 million Br, according to the prosecutor. They also pressured him to start negotiations with them and transfer all shares of Cosmo Trading, as well as his promise to transfer the seven-storey building, an excavator, construction machinery, and three vehicles into their ownership.

Under the second count, Azeb and Temesgen were charged for alleged money laundering. They took over the managerial positions at Cosmo Trading and received 61-million-Br and 10-million-Br bank loans as working capital, of which 21 million Br was used to service Cosmo's debt. They transferred 32 million Br in two rounds into JJ Properties's account, a company managed by the duo, the charge claims.

Seven million Birr was also transferred to Boston Real Estates's account, which is owned by Azeb. About 16 million Br was also used to service TTH Trading's debt, according to the charge. Temesgen is also charged for allegedly taking 14.4 million Br in rental fees generated from the seven-storey building and 1.4 million Br from the sale of a grader.

Under the third count, four defendants are charged for allegedly engaging in illegal remittance services leading the government to lose over 383,000 dollars. These individuals were transferring money into recipients' local account, while the foreign currency transaction took place in Europe and the United States, according to the charge.

The fourth count is filed against Azeb and Temsegen, alleging they were engaged in money laundering. Temsegen took 49 million Br from the accounts of Cosmo and Haileyesus and transferred it into the accounts of his siblings and companies. Azeb has also transferred a total of 9.9 million Br into the accounts of different individuals, according to the charge. The charge accuses them of concealing the illegally obtained money by passing it through banking transfers.

The fifth count has three companies as defendants, JJ Properties, TTH Trading and Boston Real Estate. The companies are charged for layering the money laundering activities. Mesfin Asmamaw, former general manager of Cosmo Trading, was also charged under two separate counts for allegedly misusing his power while working at Cosmo and causing damages to the company. Azeb also faces eight counts for allegedly misleading police investigators by giving false information.

Since the bench has not started reviewing the case, a court warrant is not issued and the defendants did not receive the charge yet. Temesgen also confirmed to Fortunethat he did not receive the charge, adding that he was only informed about the ongoing investigation by the Office of the Attorney General.

Haileyesus, the plaintiff, says that beyond losing his properties, the issue led him to flee the country after being jailed.

"I returned back after the new administration came to power," he told Fortune.

PUBLISHED ON Oct 11,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1067]

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