Ethiopia charges METEC head with additional corruption case

FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a media conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, October 29, 2018. Michel Euler/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia hit the former head of military-run industrial conglomerate METEC with additional corruption charges on Monday, in a complex case seen as a test of the new prime minister’s anti-corruption campaign.

Kinfe Dagnew was arrested along with dozens of other employees of the METEC two months ago. The new charges relate to the procurement of ships from state-run Ethiopian Shipping and Logistics Enterprise.

Prosecutors Fetihu Nuri and Habite Mariam charged Kinfe and 13 codefendants with wasting 554 million Ethiopian birr of public funds ($20 million) on unwarranted repairs and administrative costs when ordering the vessels. The case was adjourned until Jan. 28.

He is the most senior official charged as part of a nationwide crackdown on graft in the public sector after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office last year. Abiy vowed to clean up state-owned firms and the military, and canceled many METEC contracts, including one for supplying of turbines for the nearly $5 billion Grand Renaissance Dam.

Abiy is Ethiopia’s first leader from its majority Oromo ethnic group. He was chosen by the ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), as its new head after three years of street protests and strikes piled pressure on it to reform.

Kinfe was arrested on the border with Sudan and Eritrea after a months-long investigation into METEC, which uncovered suspicious procurement practices involving more than $2 billion.

Kinfe already faces four counts of corruption at the Lideta High Court in Addis Ababa related to the procurement of tractors.

Writing by Katharine Houreld, Editing by William Maclean