Yonas Biru, PhD
Yesterday, the US Embassy in Ethiopia tweeted the following:
“The U.S. Embassy highlights the importance of all nations observing and protecting the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations to ensure diplomats around the world can carry out their missions in safety. We are concerned by the assault and detention of African Development Bank (AfDB) personnel and call for those responsible to be held accountable.”
Soon After the Embassy of Canada retweeted:
“Canada remains concerned with the assault of @AfDB_Group diplomats in October, regrets that those responsible have not yet been held accountable, and is dismayed the AfDB have withdrawn foreign staff. Diplomats cannot do their job without the full protection of the Vienna Convention.”
Almost simultaneously, the British Embassy tweeted a similar message. The purpose of this article is to shed light on the timing of these and other similar statements. But first we need to briefly discuss two points: (1) The assault and detention of two AfDB officials by Ethiopia security forces, and (2) the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) system.
The Assault and Detention
Ethiopia was supposed to transfer $5.2 million to AfDB. The Ethiopian government sent the $5.2 million that was earmarked for AfDB to an unknown account in Panama. People who know about the Panama Papers know Panama is one of the money laundering Mecca of the World. For those who do not know about the Panama Papers, they are 11 million leaked documents, containing personal financial information, including 12 world leaders, 128 public officials and politicians, and wealthy individuals involved in illicit financial transactions from 200 countries.
The US’s Access to the SWIFT
The SWIFT is the system that facilitates and manages most international money and security transfers.
An insightful article by a Nobel Prize-winning Princeton economist, Paul Krugman, sheds a bright light on the US’s access to the SWIFT and its implications. The famed economist who is known for his lucid writing revealed two critical information.
- Though the SWIFT is located in Belgium, the US has access to it after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
- “Most of the world’s fiber-optic cables, which carry data and messages around the planet, travel through the United States. And where these cables make U.S. landfall, Washington can and does monitor their traffic—basically making a record of every data packet that allows the National Security Agency (SNA) to see the data. The United States can therefore easily spy on what almost every business, and every other country, is doing.”
Krugman concluded: “Santa may not know whether you’ve been bad or good, but the NSA probably does.”
The Diplomatic Debacle and the Aftermath
The AfDB wanted to know why the Ethiopian government has not sent the $5.2 million. The government insisted it has sent the money. On October 31, the Minister of Finance, Ahmed Shide, summoned the AfDB Country Director to his office. During the discussion it became clear that the money was not sent to the AfDB account. Instead, it was sent to an unknown account.
The same evening, Ethiopian security officers went to the AfDB country director’s resident and told him he was under arrest. At the time, one of the AfDB international staff was at his house. The Country Director reminded them that he has diplomatic immunity and that the Vienna Convention prohibits them from entering his house and arresting him. They beat him up and his visitor and took them to prison. The AfDB President had to call PM Abiy to intervene to secure their release.
Subsequently, the AfDB evacuated all its international staff until a transparent investigation is undertaken and the report is released. Though the PM promised that he himself will follow through the investigation, it became clear that he was not serious about having a transparent investigation.
After over a month, the President of the AfDB sent a high-level delegation to ensure the investigation is conducted as agreed. Their effort was to no avail. The PM tried to smooth-talk the President, saying “my brother, you have to trust me…” It did not work. The world knows the PM is a pathological liar.
The PM’s failure to keep his words escalated the issue to the AfDB Board. On December 19, nearly 7 weeks after the assault, the AfDB Board decided not to return its international staff to Addis Ababa until a fully transparent investigation is conducted and the report is released. To date, the PM has refused to conduct such an investigation.
There are two possible explanations. Either the PM himself or the Oromo mafia group that is ransacking the nation is involved in the $5.2 million scam. If the Mafia group is the culprit, the PM knows that throwing them under the bus will have serious repercussions. The mafia group knows he is deeply involved in looting the nation and its members will not go down alone.
Why did the US Embassy issue a public statement yesterday?
It is to be remembered that in an earlier investigation the US found that federal government officials were involved in looting and exporting wheat from international storages intended to feed starving Ethiopians. Consequently, the US discontinued food aid to Ethiopia until a transparent investigation is conducted and the results are released. The PM failed to have such investigations.
Considering that the US has access to the SWIFT system and controls the world’s fiber-optic cables through which all global financial information flows, it is plausible that it may have found out to whose account the $5.2 million is deposited. This is plausible because the source of the money is known. Tracking down its footprints and identifying the account number and owner of the account is not a difficult undertaking.
The reason the US and other western countries are taking a strong and coordinated stand is to pressure the PM. They know he cannot survive a truly independent and transparent investigation.
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