Feb 20 , 2021

A judge at the Federal High Court ordered the arrest and summons of Temesgen Yilma, one of the seven individuals and three companies charged for alleged money laundering, usury and engaging in illegal remittance services. The Court ordered his arrest as the defendant failed to appear before the Court after receiving a warrant.

During the court session held on February 11, 2021, only one of the defendants appeared in court with his lawyer, while the remaining did not. Three of them did not show up since they are overseas. Temesgen and his company TTH Trading Plc, the owner of Yilma Butchery, did not appear before the court despite receiving the warrant. Two other individuals were also absent.

The last session was held to receive a statement of defence from the defendants for the charges federal prosecutors filed at the end of September under eight counts, as well as to receive a report from the National Immigration Nationality & Vital Events Agency about the defendants who are not in the country.

Azeb Mehreteab, founder of Boston Real Estate and JJ Properties; Temesgen, the general Manager at TTH Trading Plc; Haregewoin Tedla, Azeb's representative; and Efrem Mulatu, an actor, and the three companies are among the defendants. After the case was filed, the court reviewed it four times with nine of the defendants in absentia.

Azeb, Haregewoin and Efrem, the codefendants under the first count, are charged for their alleged involvement in usury crimes. The charge accuses Azeb of entering into a 50-million-Br loan deal with Haileyesus Mengistu, a founder of The Big Apple International, owner of Cosmo Trading and New York Café & Restaurant. Haregewoin signed the loan agreement on Azeb's behalf, while Efrem signed as a witness for the loan that had nine percent of usurious interest rates for six months, according to the charge.

While agreeing to lend Haileyesus the money, Azeb took the title deed of his seven-storey building, estimated to be worth 250 million Br, as collateral. She then transferred 3.2 million Br of the loan into Haileyesus' account, according to the charge. Aiming to make the transaction legal, she prepared a document showing JJ Properties bought the building for 60 million Br. However, Haileyesus did not sign the agreement, reads the charge.

After realising Haileyesus did not sign the agreement, the defendants charged him for allegedly taking 19.8 million Br, according to the prosecutors. They also pressured him to negotiate for the transfer of his entire shares at Cosmo Trading, his ownership of the seven-storey building, an excavator, three vehicles, and construction machinery into their ownership, according to the charge.

Azeb and Temesgen are charged under the second count for allegedly being involved in money laundering. The charge accuses them of taking over the managerial positions at Cosmo Trading and receiving 71 million Br in bank loans as working capital and using 21 million Br of this amount to service Cosmo's debt. The charge also claims that they allegedly transferred 32 million Br in two rounds into JJ Properties' account, a company managed by the duo.

An additional seven million Birr was transferred into Boston Real Estate's account, while 16 million Br was also used to recover TTH Trading's debt, claims the charge. The prosecutors also charged Temesgen for allegedly taking 14.4 million Br in rental fees earned from the building and 1.4 million Br from a grader's sale.

Temesgen and Haregewoin, with two more defendants, are charged under the third count for allegedly engaging in illegal remittance services. They were transferring local money into recipients' local account, while the foreign currency transactions were taking place in the United States and Europe, according to the charge. In doing this, the defendants led the government to lose over 383,000 dollars, claims the charge.

Azeb and Temesgen were charged under the fourth count for allegedly engaging in money laundering. According to the charge, Temesgen took 49 million Br from the accounts of Cosmo and Haileyesus and transferred it to his siblings' and companies' accounts. Azeb has also transferred 9.9 million Br into the accounts of different individuals, reads the charge. The charge accused them of concealing the illegally obtained money by passing it through banking transfers.

The fifth count has the 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 damage to the company. Azeb also faces eight counts for allegedly misleading police investigators by giving false information.

During the latest session held earlier this month, Judge Yenenesh Bahiru adjourned the case for March 5, 2021, to receive the Immigration Nationality & Vital Events Agency report about the three defendants who are abroad. The Judge also ordered police to dispatch a warrant to the remaining defendants and to arrest and bring Temesegen to the next session.

In June, while the case was under investigation, the Court issued a restraining order on the properties administered by the defendants. Two months later, following a request from the public prosecutor, the Court issued another order for forming a neutral third-party body that will administer the properties that are under court injunction.

PUBLISHED ON Feb 20,2021 [ VOL 21 , NO 1086]

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