Tuesday, 4 November 2014


In Ethiopia, a Federal First Instance Court sentenced Yonas Kassahun to two years in jail for hacking into the email account of Akiko Seyoum,  general manager of the Orchid Business Group. This happened On October 22, 2014. In a separate civil lawsuit, Yonas also seeks 42 million Br from Akiko. Progress remains unclear on "evidence" of money laundering by Akiko which Yonas claims to have passed to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) nearly a year ago.

The Court passed a guilty verdict against Yonas, a member of the Ethiopian diaspora from Germany, and sentenced him to two years in prison and a 5,000-Br fine for the cyber crime he was said to have committed against Akiko.

The public prosecutor filed charges in June 2013, claiming Yonas had illegally accessed the email account of Akiko, a businesswoman, a year earlier. Yonas allegedly transferred documents to his personal account, shared the documents with a third person, Girma Gelaw (Eng) and then deleted the documents from Akiko's electronic inbox. The prosecutor, Tolemariam Megerssa, told the court that Yonas used the data he acquired to blackmail Akiko into paying him 50 million Br if she wanted to get back her business data, which included information exchanged with her foreign and local clients.

However, in July 2012, a month after the alleged hacking incident, and 11 months before the prosecutor raised charges, Yonas and his lawyer, Amha Mekonnen, had passed a document to the MoJ, which they claimed proved Akiko was involved in money laundering by arranging payment to a Dubai based company, Soldan International Trading, for work done in Ethiopia.

However it was clear during the litigation at court, that the two principals were involved in a romantic relationship. They took each other to court within months of their relationship, although in Akiko's case it would be the prosecutor that filed the criminal suit in June. Months later, on November 5, 2013, Yonas filed a civil counter-suit against the Orchid, in which Akiko owns a dominant majority of shares, with one share owned by Yeshihareg Asta . According to Yonas' suit, the two agreed to work together when Akiko won a contract from the government of South Sudan for services during the celebration of the new country's first independence anniversary. Yonas, who claims to own a catering business in Germany, brought his resources from there to South Sudan to offer catering services in exchange for a payment of 42 million Br from Akiko.

In the case against Yonas, the prosecutor presented three pieces of documentary evidence from the Information Network Security Agency (INSA), which he said proved his claims. These documents included a CD from INSA holding the documents that Yonas is said to have taken from Akiko's email box, as well as another CD from Ethio Telecom listing the number and length of phone calls between Akiko and Yonas.
Yonas told the court that while he and Akiko were in relationship, they accessed each other's emails routinely. He claimed that he found evidence implicating her in money laundering during his routine use of the e-mail account, which he then passed to the MoJ. Yonas also produced a witness from INSA, however, this witness actually testified against him, saying that the Agency received Yonas' laptop, mobile, and other computers from police. It was during the examination of these items that the Agency proved that Yonas accessed Akiko's email and sent her personal data to Girma.

The sixth criminal bench rejected Yonas' statement of defense, stating that the testimony did not have legal grounds, and proceeded to hear testimony of the four prosecution witnesses, including Akiko. Akiko told the court that Yonas had accessed a five-year record of agreements and construction designs when she decided to end her relationship with him.

Akiko said he had deleted her documents from her electronic box, although she was later able to get some bank statements back from the INSA. The other three witnesses told the court that they were involved in arbitration between the two litigants, during which Yonas had told them that he had hacked Akiko's email using Russian and German technologies, and that she would have to pay him 50 million Br if she wanted her documents back.

Before passing sentence on Yonas, the court heard arguments from both sides for mitigation and aggravation. Yonas' attorney Amha asked the court to consider Yonas, a citizen of Germany, being a father of two and he had returned to his home country for investment. "Yonas acquired the information in order to get his money back; he received no special benefits" said Amha, referring to Yonas' suit against Orchid Business Group for 42 million Br. Prosecutor Tolemariam, however, said that Yonas' crime had caused a loss to a company, Orchid, which employed 1,800 people, and asked for a maximum penalty.

Pronouncing sentence, presiding judge Abdurahman Kiyar referred to Article 707:2 of Ethiopia's criminal code, describing the crime as "causing damage to data in order to devise or execute any scheme or artifice to steal, defraud, deceive or extort or wrongfully control or obtain money, property, computer services or any data." This article has a provision for maximum rigorous imprisonment of up to five years as well as fines of up to 20,000 Br.

After the sentencing, Yonas' attorney Amha stated that "the ruling has two major errors in interpretation of legal terms and evaluation of facts, so we will appeal to the Federal High Court to reverse the ruling,"

Amha also said that he was personally following up on the money-laundering file that Yonas passed to the MoJ, which in turn referred the file to the Financial Intelligence centre. According to Amha, the centre has informed him that he could only follow progress of the file through the MoJ, from which he was unable to get any updates.

Yonas will now have to pursue his civil suit against the Orchid from prison. According to the suit, Yonas had agreed to supply two expensive generators, as well as air conditioners, kitchen materials and other equipment, all bought from Germany, for an anniversary event that took place on July 9, 2011. Yonas claims existence of an agreement that he would be paid 42 million Br by Orchid within six months of providing his services. When the payment was delayed, Yonas claims he received a letter from Orchid signed by Engida Workneh, Orchid's deputy manager, stating that Soldan, which is based in Dubai and named after Akiko's first child, Solomon Daniel, would pay him the money.

Judge Shemsu Sirgaga ruled that Orchid should have to pay Yonas the claim of 42 million Br based on forensic evidence that proved the letter from Orchid was genuine. Orchid appealed to the federal Supreme Court, which has adjourned decision to November 19, 2014.

Orchid Business Group Plc is a family of companies, including Orchid General Contractor, a grade one contractor; Wonder Wheel Business Plc, an importer of finishing materials for buildings and Orchid Machinery Rental, which rents out construction machinery. Akiko administers the company as its general manager.

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