Opaque ties and jointly owned hotels between businessmen and high-level politicians

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Elilly International Hotel, which opened in 2013, is one of the most expensive and grandest hotels in Addis Ababa. Located in Kazanchis business district on the main entrance of the United Nations Conference centre (UNCC), the hotel boasts “breath-taking views from its rooms”. It was awarded five star last year, a rare accolade that it shares along with Sheraton Addis and Capital Hotel. The construction cost of the hotel was reportedly more than 700 million birr, with its 154 rooms that including penthouse and two presidential suites. An expansion project for the hotel was underway, and it includes a building only intended for parking. This hotel is registered under the name of Gemshu Beyene Bote, a businessman, who is described as co-owner, even though the name of the other co-owners are not mentioned.
Gemshu Beyene, who is the owner of Gemshu Beyene Construction (GEBECON) is in the process of constructing two mega resorts, one on the shore of Lake Babogaya, Bishoftu and another in Burayu town, located 15 kilometers from the center of Addis. The one in Bishoftu would have a meeting hall that would accommodate 2500 people, making it for the biggest in the country. This would make Gemshu one of the few hotel moguls in the country and Ethiopia’s nouveaux riches.
Who is Gemshu and where does his wealth come from? By his own account, Gemshu Beyene Bote, who hails from small village Homa Kulkula in Wolega, began his career as a humble daily labourer in road construction in Jiga town, 75 kms away from Debre markos, in his teen age years. He didn’t have the possibility of going to day school, he attended the night shifts while working in the day time. He would later get his driving license and would be employed in Ethiopian Roads Authority (ERA) as chauffeur with a salary of 247 birr per month. In a little while, he would move to Pawi area, Benishangul-Gumuz where Salini Construction was present again as driver, earning 1,200 birr per month, considering the difficult working condition of the area. In three years’ time he would come to Alem Gena ERCC training centre, with 40,000 birr in his pocket, large sum.
Gemishu proved an enterprising young man and he bought a lorry in partnership with Adugna Ejigu, owner of Homa Construction, who is related to him and who came from the same village as him, the year Gemishu was 24. After EPRDF took power in 1991, he formed his own company, Fincha Fufuate Freight Transport PLC. He managed to get some working contracts with an NGO to transport grains, substantially increasing his savings. Around that time, he became friends with Getachew Gebre Selassie, the then owner of Nyla Motors, who would allow him to take five trucks only paying twenty five percent. This, he says, is how the Gemshu Beyene Construction (GEBECON) PLc came about.
The details of Gemshu’s subsequent career and the manner in which his company came to win several road contracts remain murky, as is the case for many contractors in this country, yet his connections with the regional Oromia government, has increasingly become visible. His friendship and association with the power brokers was described as fraudulent, and he was accused of by some circles offering officials money, plane tickets in exchange for political favors and contracts.
In several dealings the regime’s officials, even the justice system showed favour with Gemishu. One blatant favour that was done for Gemeshu was the way he secured 1,696 sqm metre land close to the Elilly hotel in kazanchis area for the expansion project, a land which was already leased to Ayat Real State, that had already invested around three million Birr for digging foundations. Ayat had brought a charge against Gemshu and the Kirkos District for taking the piece of land, but the judge ruled in Gemeshu’s favour. (Ayat’s patron, Ato Ayalew, once the favoured protégé of the regime, is behind bar accused of a tax evasion.)
Some OPDO officials are rumoured to have been instrumental in advancing Gemshu’s career by financing his early development. For instance, it in an open secret that Gemshu has deep personal ties with Abadula Gemeda, speaker of the House of Peoples’ Representatives and former president the Oromia Region. It is also rumoured, and likely true that Elilly is co-owned by Abadula, who might also be behind the chain of important hotels under construction.
Since from his days as president of the Oromia region, Aba Dula was often accused of selling and distributing land illegally and controlling minimum five luxury homes. He in 2009 gave his house which was located in Adama town to his own party, OPDO saying that it would be stumbling block to his “struggle for the good of the country”, as it was reported in the Reporter newspaper. It was widely reported then that Aba Dula took this measure not on his own but by secret orders from on high, probably Meles Zenawi himself. His villa located on Olympia, next to New York Café has reportedly been rented for 4,000 dollars. His two daughters, Jalete and Sorete who went to the British school and the French school, are fabulously wealthy for teenagers and are gaining notoriety in Addis Ababa’s business circle as spendthrift. When Abadula ironically spoke of the corrosive effects of official corruption in 2012 after taking up the house of speakers post, there were several cynic responses, such as one from a newspaper columnist, saying “the parody has reached its climax.
Now Gemshu Beyene is under official pressure and an asset freeze order was issued against his Construction Plc and Ellily Hotel, along with other 210 individuals and 15 companies who are suspected of having dealings with the officials, individuals and brokers who are arrested for corruption charges.
According to one insider, Gemshu was escorted out of the country last Sunday and he is now believed to be in china.
The Ethiopian authorities have not discussed Gemshus’s situation publicly. Gemshus’s company is one of a number of politically companies that have heavily borrowed from the government banks.
Observers say that the government wants to give the impression that it is tightening its grip on corruption but the highest echelons of the party apparatus and bigger abusive officials have remained in their jobs. Several weeks into a government campaign against official malfeasance, many people here remain deeply cynical about whether the regime can truly alter the sort of self-serving behavior that has long suffused its vast bureaucracy.
Abadula is by no means the only high-level government official who is controlling hotels, shopping complex with joint venture, obviously to avoid any scrutiny. There are rumours about many other officials, though difficult to confirm them all, controlling businesses, indication of the growing case of graft, greed and corruption in Ethiopia. In the absence of the free and independent media, many of the cases go unreported.
The recently inaugurated Azzeman hotel located in Bole Atlas area, 100 metres from the famous Habesha 2,000 resutrant is another case in point. The Hotel, named after a mountain in Guraghe region, with 79 rooms, a conference hall that could accommodate 300 people and 120 personnel was officially inaugurated on January 25, 2017 at a ceremony attended by businessmen and government officials, including Dr. Hirut Wolde-mariam, Minister of Culture and Tourism. The young and mysterious owner of the hotel, Ayele Gebre Medhin, a one-time EPRDF youth league member, said he spent more than two hundred million birr in the hotel. It is a huge amount of money and investment from someone who has no other registered business in the country. Questions about the sources of the money was evaded by the manager of the hotel, who only said that the owner is a young businessman who goes often to Dubai and he appears to have amassed considerable wealth. However, we have some information surfacing in the business community of the area actually the large share of the hotel is owned by non-other than Debretsion Gebremikael, the hardliner within TPLF and the central force shaping Hailemarima’s regime and Minister of Communication and Information Technology, since 2010.
Debretsion, who has been implicated in other corruption cases, is, irrefutably becoming powerful, especially after the death of Meles Zenawi, allowed to join in as the TPLF’s Executive Committee member. Debretsion has his fingerprints all over the government important business contracts and some recent evidence suggests he is grouped around by the influential group of secret service and military officials. Debretsion had once served under intelligence chief, Kinfe Gebre-Medhin, who had been assassinated in 2001.
Another senior official who owns a grand new hotel, the Land Mark located in the north western Gondar town, is Bereket Simoen. The hotel is officially run by a company with investors that included Nega Addisu, an architect who lived in Germany and the United States. The hotel was inaugurated on January 2014, in connection with the Timkat celebration and the construction was said to be 75 million birr. The large cake prepared for the occasion was cut by none other than Berekt Simoen, whose career had been defined by his close relationship with Meles Zenawi and his business acumen, and his personality described by detractors as secretive and merciless.
Land Mark hotel, of course had construction loans from Dashen Bank, and the hotel pays back 600,000 birr every month Dashen bank. But the hotel doesn’t make that amount in a month.
Another hotel owned by Bereket’s wife, Asefu Fente and her brother Mezmur Fente, is Rahnile hotel located in Bahir Dar town, a hotel which was given three star last year. The hotel boasts of having “40 luxury rooms, international standard restaurant, two bars, spa facility.” Asefu and Mezmur, who are from Sekota, have long been engaged in the fight against the Derg, and their mother belonged to EPRP party. Mezmur often likes to talk about his role in composing propaganda music of the struggle, along with Hilawe Yospeh and Berekt Simoen in addition to making most of the business dealings.
The former Deputy Prime Minister Addisu Legesse has large share in Papyrus hotel located in Bahir Dar town. What makes this case special is the person, under whom the hotel is registered Tebqew Baile, passed away few years ago. His wife and children decided to sell the hotel, what they saw as their family’s rightful inheritance. They soon realized that that they couldn’t as the hotel was jointly owned with Addisu. Addisu also is reported to co-own Addis View Hotel in Addis Ababa, whose so-called owner is in custody in suspicion of money lending scam.

Arefayné Fantahun
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