Manager of Ethiopia's $4 billion Nile dam project committed suicide: police

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The project manager of a $4 billion Ethiopian dam who was found dead in his vehicle in Addis Ababa on July 26 committed suicide, police said on Friday.

Slideshow ( 3 images )

Simegnew Bekele was the public face of the Grand Renaissance Dam project on the River Nile - the centerpiece of Ethiopia’s bid to become Africa’s biggest power exporter.

Scores of people took to the streets following his death, both in his home city in Ethiopia’s north and in the capital Addis Ababa, where he was found with a bullet wound below his right ear, sparking allegations that he might have been murdered.

On Friday, police ruled out foul play.

“His death was not the result of a murder. The investigation concludes that it was suicide,” the head of Ethiopia’s Federal Police Commission, Zeinu Jemal, told reporters.

Forensic examinations matched gunshot residue to a gun he had owned for a decade, he added.

Zeinu said the investigation had shown that the victim had been under pressure from delays in the construction of the dam, and that conversations with his secretary an hour before his death, and with his children the evening before, “seemed like farewell statements”.

Ethiopia has been pushing on with the project in the face of opposition from Egypt, which fears the dam will affect the flow of the Nile, its main source of water. In June, the leaders of Ethiopia and Egypt vowed to iron out their differences peacefully.

The government has only acknowledged recently that the dam, begun in 2011 and originally expected to be completed this year, might take another 10 years to finish.

Last month, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said the government had terminated the contract of the state-run Metals and Engineering Corporation (METEC), the contractor for the project’s electromechanical and hydraulic steel structure divisions.

Italy’s Salini Impregilo remains the main contractor building the dam, which is designed to churn out 6,000 megawatts (MW) of power on completion.

Zeinu said the preliminary indications were that Simegnew’s suicide was linked not only to the delays but also to the extra costs they were incurring for the government: “All this added up to pile pressure on engineer Simegnew.”

Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Kevin Liffey