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Cablegate: Ethiopia: Anti-Corruption Minister Talks About

VZCZCXYZ0008
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHDS #2270/01 2290857
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 170857Z AUG 06
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 2100

UNCLAS ADDIS ABABA 002270

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PHUM PGOV CASC ET
SUBJECT: ETHIOPIA: ANTI-CORRUPTION MINISTER TALKS ABOUT
AMCIT PRISONER, WORK OF THE COMMISSION

1. (SBU) Summary: Ali Suleiman, the Minister for the Federal
Anti Corruption and Ethics Commission told the Charge and
Cons chief August 10 that the Alazar Dessie case, which
falls within his jurisdiction, may finally be concluded in
January. He also discussed the Commission's priorities:
education against corruption, promotion of ethics in public
offices, and vigilance over public enterprise conduct. End
Summary.

2. (SBU) Mr. Alazar Dessie is the only American prisoner in
Ethiopia. He was charged with violation of corruption
statutes based on alleged questionable loans when he was a
consultant to the government-owned Commercial Bank of
Ethiopia (CBE). The proceedings against him began in 2001.
While the consular section regularly meets with Mr. Dessie,
the length of the proceeding has caused some concern, and
resulted in high level visits to Mr. Dessie, most recently
from Congressman Payne.

3. (SBU) The Minister appeared somewhat uncomfortable
talking about the Dessie case, and noted that the case
predated his arrival, beginning at around the time the
Commission was established. In brief, his version of the
case was that loan procedures were violated and many corrupt
people defaulted on improperly authorized loans. These
corrupt individuals absconded with the money to the United
States, where they have been untouchable, as no extradition
treaty exists between the two countries.

4. (SBU) According to Minister Ali, the prosecution rested
its case against Dessie, and the defense will now present
its evidence when the court returns from its summer recess
in October. While there are some government witnesses, the
bulk of the prosecution's case rests on documentary
evidence. The case, Minister Ali said, was a matter "beyond
his control," and now in the hands of the courts, though he
surmised that there may be an outcome as early as January.
As the Minister explained, he is not as concerned about the
outcome as he is about the court's interpretation of law.
Minister Ali suggested that even if the prosecution loses
the case, he will not necessarily appeal the decision if the
court's interpretation does not set bad precedent.

5. (SBU) When asked about the Commission's other activities,
the Minister launched into a lengthy explanation about the
Commission's work. Federal institutions and the public
enterprises are within the Commission's limited
jurisdiction. The Commission's staff consists of
approximately 200 employees, though there is talk of
expanded jurisdiction to include NGO's. The Minister
explained that there is great disappointment with NGOs
because of how money is spent and what he called
discriminatory hiring practices. (Comment: An expansion of
the Commission's mandate along these lines would raise
concerns about politically motivated harassment of NGOs.
End Comment)

6. (SBU) Minister Ali portrayed the institution as a young
organization with several priorities: to educate and to
police the public offices and enterprises. As part of the
education component, there is a nationwide media campaign to
fight corruption by promoting ethics through school clubs
and in school curricula. As part of the policing effort,
there are now ethics officers in each public office that can
accept complaints. The Minister noted that placing
officials in the public offices has been difficult, as there
is resistance to their presence. Some officers even need
protection. The Commission concentrates on mid-level
officials, since the higher officials often have their own
money and they leave public service to become investors.
Minister Ali did not provide an explanation of how those
higher officials generated their initial capital.

7. (SBU) The procedures to develop a case begin with the
investigatory branch. When the investigators receive
information or a complaint, they create a file, compile the
information and send it to a committee. This committee will
then decide whether to approve the investigation. If
approved, it is sent to the prosecutor. The prosecutor can
choose to send the case back for further investigation or
submit it to the courts. Recently the Commission has
expanded prosecutorial discretion to include immunity for
lesser crimes. Immunity will only be offered if the
defendants assist the Commission in exposing the main
targets, cooperate with the investigation, and return any
unlawfully gained funds. The Commission can also delegate
lower priority cases to the police for regular processing
through the court system. Under the main Commission are
four regional Commissions that may also be delegated
authority to handle cases arising outside of Addis.

8. (SBU) One of the major Commission functions concerns the
public enterprises. They investigate, evaluate performance,
ensure proper procurement procedures are followed and verify
that the enterprises have transparent accounting. The
Commission's officers also gather public opinion related to
the public enterprises, and field many concerns about
privatization. Appraisals for enterprises that may be
subject to privatization are also evaluated by the
Commission. Officers are especially vigilant with
institutions and enterprises where large contracts may tempt
the corrupt. These include among others: customs,
telecommunications, power, and the highway authorities.

9. (SBU) Conceding that the public is frustrated with the
Commission's ability to process cases, the Minister
explained that the Commission cannot do everything given
resource constraints. He commented that the Commission is,
however, drafting a law that will require public officials
to declare or register their assets, though he believes the
legislation may encounter difficulty in the parliament. The
Charge advised that similar laws exist in the U.S. and
commended the Minister's efforts to reduce corruption,
noting that corruption levels in Ethiopia, compared to Kenya
or Nigeria, are relatively low.

10. (SBU) The commission receives some funding from UNDP and
would welcome assistance to improve their operations from
USAID.

WILGUS

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