Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Ethiopia: Determined Leikun Out On Bail, Still Fighting Conviction


Once again, Leikun Brehanu, 65, former president of Awash International Bank (AIB), is out of jail against a 50,000 Br bond, approved by the Cassation Bench of the Federal Supreme Court. Justices at the Cassation Bench granted his release on Wednesday, April 4, 2012. He was released at the eleventh hour the following day.
Before the interruption of the execution of bail, Leikun was behind bars at the Addis Abeba Prison Centre, on Debre Zeit Road, for more than a month, serving a one year and three-month sentence ordered by the Arada Giorgis Federal First Instance Court.
He was granted bail of a similar amount by the Federal High Court, when he appealed against the ruling by the lower court, along with an application referring to the provisions of a Criminal Code procedure.
A defendant can apply for the suspension of a sentence before or after an appeal hearing begins, the procedure stipulates.
However, he was sent back to jail on February 15, 2012, along with his co-defendants, after the High Court upheld the decision of the lower Court, which sentenced him for misdemeanours in handling letters of credit (LC).
It has not been easy for the veteran banker, who still maintains his innocence.
He has never been accused of disciplinary breaches, let alone been involved in crime to deserve staying behind bars before exhausting all available legal remedies, he argues.
In an application of appeal written to the Cassation Bench of the Supreme Court on February 27, 2012, his lawyer, Amsalu Tsehay, presented his grievance against the decisions of the lower courts, alleging a fundamental error of law. He petitioned the Court to quash their decisions and acquit Leikun from serving the sentence.
The decision of the lower Court, which required him to defend his case, was contrary to the fundamental rights of the accused to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the lawyer argued in the application of appeal.
Equating the ruling with a reversal of the burden of proof, which is on the shoulders of public prosecutors, the lawyer argued that, The decision demands the accused prove his innocence or show that he has not committed the crime."
"Lower courts have committed a fundamental error of law," the appeal claims.
A graduate of what was then Haile Sellasie I University (now Addis Abeba University) in the 1960s, Leikun started his career in banking with Addis Abeba Bank, which used to be run by Debebe H. Yohannes. He started out as a junior banking officer, before he was promoted to a senior position when the military junta nationalised the Bank and merged it with the state owned Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE), in the late 1970s. Leikun also served as a general manager of the CBE before he left the banking industry in the late 1980s, to join the state owned Agricultural Produces Enterprise.
The advent of the EPRDF government landed him a position as the first governor of the central bank, during the post-Derg era. As a governor, he was to sign the first license given to a private commercial bank in 1996, AIB, where the main promoter, Bulcha Demeksa, was its first president.
Departing from the central bank in 2000, replaced by Dubale Jale, Leikun joined AIB as its second president. During his tenure, he also served the Ethiopian Bankers Association as a chairman, before giving up the position to Brehanu Gateneh, who is also president of United Bank.
During his years at AIB, the Bank prospered, making profits throughout the decade. He also oversaw the completion of an ultramodern headquarters recently opened on Ras Abebe Aregay Street, though it ended up in an unfortunate saga with a flux of legal ramifications.
Pending the final judgment on whether the ruling of the lower courts qualifies as exhibiting a fundamental error of law as claimed by Leikun, the three justices at the Cassation Bench convened a hearing on April 3, 2012. As if to console Leikun and all by his side, the Court decided to pass the hearing of the case to the next Division, which will be presided over by five justices and pronounced an interim measure that resulted in the stay of the execution of the sentence Leikun has been serving.
Following the decision, Leikun's lawyer petitioned the Court to grant his release on bail. In an attempt to prevent irreversible damage, should the Court nullify the previous decisions in the latter hearing, Leikun was granted a conditional release from prison, awaiting the final ruling to be given by the Bench.
It adjourned the commencement of the hearing of the appeal for May 4, 2012.
"I am pleased to be out to spend the holiday with my family," Leikun told Fortune.
Public prosecutors are expected to appear with a written response to the claims of Leikun, next month.

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