Ethiopian extortion victim lands in jail

When we picked up the story about Ethiopian scientist and inventor Admasu Gebre who was thrown in jail for copyright violation in Ethiopia, we were almost certain that the ruling party Woyanne was behind it. We have heard too many similar cases in the past to reach at such a conclusion. Copyright dispute would not land any one in Ethiopian jail unless the complainant or the plaintiff is a member or friend of the ruling party.

The facts we have gathered since the story (see here) published on August 31 indeed show that retired Ethiopian Navy commander Admasu Gebre is a victim extortion. Here are some of the facts we have collected so far:

1. Commander Admasu Gebre, 70, is a native of Ethiopia and currently holds Dutch citizenship. He was a commander of the former Ethiopian Navy. As an engineer and researcher, he holds a patent for Vehicle Guidance System, which is worth tens of millions of dollars (USD). Last year, he started to build a manufacturing plant in a suburb of Addis Ababa that produces solar-powered lamps. He is involved in many other projects as well.

2. Admasu has an interest in the arts. In 2006, he was looking for a film to finance. He is introduced to Los Angeles resident Bruke Mekbib Abayneh that same year. Admasu reads a script titled Mentiyewochu (the twins) written by Adinew (Adonis) Woldemariam. He purchases the script and all domestic and international rights for a total sum of 20,000 birr, which is thought to be a fair market price in 2006.

3. Bruke Mekbeb, under his company Bruke Films Plc in Addis Ababa, signs a one film production agreement with Navcon Energy PLC owned by Admasu Gebre. They agree to split the profits — Bruke 45%, Admasu 55%. Bruke Mekbib does not invest any money in the deal. In fact, Bruke receives a 25,000 Euro advance from Admasu against his future 45% earnings. Bruke uses the advance to rent an office and hire a staff in Addis Ababa. Bruke Mekbib is named as Producer of the film under Executive Producer Adamsu Gebre in local news media.

4. The witness and guarantor during these negotiations, agreements and transactions was Bruke’s uncle Alemseged G. Yohannes the former Addis Ababa Police Deputy Commissioner. No need to go further to find a reason for Admasu’s predicaments. But let’s continue any way.

5. Soon after the agreement, Commissioner Alemseged receives a Euro 10,000 loan from Admasu.

6. After signing the contract in Addis Ababa, Bruke returns to Los Angeles.

7. Los Angeles based filmmakers Zeresenay ‘Z’ Mehari (Director), Alula Amdemicael (Cinematographer) and David L. Smith (Editor) sign on to make the film. Zeresenai Mehari flies to Addis Ababa and starts casting actors.

8. Admasu wires an additional $83,000 into Bruke’s bank account in Los Angeles. The money was to be used to purchase film making equipment.

9. Alula Amdemichael and David Smith identify and assist Bruke in the purchase of all equipment on behalf of Admasu Gebre’s company Navcom Energy PLC. All reciepts are sent to Admasu in Ethiopia.

10. Around this time, Bruke’s uncle, Commissioner (or more commonly known as “Shaleqa”) Alemseged comes to Los Angeles to buy cars to ship to Ethiopia. Bruke takes him to an auction and helps him buy 3 cars.

11. In Addis Ababa, Admasu pays tariff and takes delivery of the equipments. All the equipments were bought in his name.

12. All the purchased film equipment are shipped to Ethiopia via Ethiopian Airlines Cargo in November 2006. Admasu pays all tariffs and takes delivery of his equipment and records all serial numbers and verifies receipts.

13. Bruke, Alula and David arrive in Addis December 5, 2006. Admasu allows equipment to be transferred and housed in Bruke Films offices for the duration of the project. Pre-Production of the film starts right away.

14. In Jan 2007, Zeresenay Mehari resigns and returns to Los Angeles.

15. Alula Andemicael takes over directing duties.

16. Observing that Bruke is incompetent and free spending with the film production money, Admasu tries to replace him from his position as Producer while allowing their financial arrangement to remain intact. Bruke refuses to leave and chases away his replacements through intimidation. Production of the film starts at the end Jan 2007. Admasu and Alemnseged have a very public falling out at the Hilton Hotel Lounge.

17. Admasu goes to court claiming breach of contract. Bruke argues that Admasu refused to give him additional funds to finish production and asks the court to void the initial contract and award him 100 percent ownership of the film.

18. Alemseged is also sued by Admasu for misrepresentation and fraud. After endless appointments at the courts, which is typically followed by new appointments, the film is close to being completed.

19. The court rules in favor of Admasu and orders all film equipment, script copies, filmed material as well as edited footage to be returned to Admasu effective immediately.

20. By this time greed and vendetta set in. The intention of Bruke and Alemseged from here on is to make an example out of Admasu for daring to stand up to members of the ruling class.

21. Admasu wins the court case, but Bruke refuses to return the equipment and film to its rightful owner. The police prove useless in enforcing the court order.

22. After filming is completed in July 2007, Bruke returns some of the equipment and hardware. What was inexplicably missing amongst other things was the raw footage, the Apple G5 computer used for editing and several hard drives containing the ingested film. Admasu cries foul. He is given more appointments (six of them).

23. In September 2007, the court orders Bruke to return all the remaining property to Admasu. But with assistance from Shaleqa Alemseged, he smuggles the computer and hard drives out through Bole Airport and both fly to Los Angeles.

24. Admasu files a complaint through his lawyers in a Los Angeles Court. Admasu’s lawyers present a paper trail proving rightful ownership. The Los Angeles court agrees Admasu is the rightful owner. Admasu’s lawyers take possession of the G5 computer, the hard drives and all its contents.

25. In early 2008, Admasu contracts Alula and David to complete the post production of the film and make it ready for release.

26. Bruke and Shaleqa Alemseged re-launch a new court battle against Admasu, this time with the help of Woyanne heavy-hitters.

27. In June 2008, the film was ready. Alula Andemicael returns to Addis Ababa. Admasu starts the advertising campaign with ads on ETV announcing the release. However, after about two runs, a common thug and an employee of ETV, Tewodros Oqubai, a cousin of Bruke, intimidates ETV programmers into stopping the broadcasting of the ad.

28. Admasu is interviewed on a local radio station. He talks about the details that are happening. Shalaqua Alemseged pays a visits to the radio host and demands a retraction of the interview. Alemseged was too late. The interview was already being broadcast on 104.5 and Alemseged got the pleasure of listening to it in his car as he was driving.

29. Bruke goes to a district court and obtains an injunction against showing the film in theaters. Immediately after that, Admasu gets permission from the President of the High Court to premier the film at Sebastopol Cinema in Addis Ababa.

30. Two days later, Admasu shows the film at Cinema Empire twice in one day. Addis Ababa police pick him up and detain him for 4 days and he is released after the police could not find any legitimate thing to charge him with.

31. The police from Maekelawi (Central Investigation Station) question Alula for 6 hours. Representatives if the US Embassy in Ethiopia along with Admasu and his lawyers arrive at Maekelawi Station on behalf of Alula Amdemicael a US citizen. Alula is told he is free to leave. Federal Police waiting outside Maekelawi arrest Admasu and accuse him of being in possession of a wireless Internet router.

32. Admasu languished in jail for 2 weeks before he gets his day in court. The prosecutor tells the judge, in open court, that Admasu is a genius and that his actions need to be watched carefully as he has the mental power to turn the earth and sky upside down. The embarrassed judge admonishes the prosecutor for uttering such nonsense and orders the Federal Police to release Admasu immediately. The judge apologizes to Admasu.

33. In 2008, Ministry of Trade publishes an article on Addis Fortune announcing Bruke Films PLC to be an illegal entity not allowed to conduct any business in Ethiopia since 2003. It was found that Bruke Films never paid taxes since its inception in 2003. (Bruke Films produced the Teddy Afro Lambadina Music Video series in Ethiopia in 2005, among others works, including several commercials.)

34. In 2009, Bruke takes Admasu to yet another court. Shaleqa Alemseged, who is no longer an official at the Addis Ababa police, currently runs his own private security company, and spends most of his day at Sheraton Hotel and Castellini Restaurant courting local businessmen. On top of running a security company, Alemseged is also known as a fixer (guday asfetsami).

35. There are published reports proving Admasu has won several high value patent infringement cases against such giant corporations like Sony, Motorola, Siemens, Nokia, Thales, BMW, and FORD. Such facts gets the attention of other hustlers. Suddenly, requests for partnerships start to come from powerful elements connected to the ruing party, which Admasu has always declined.

36. Earlier this week, Bruke, Shaleqa Alemseged and gang have finally managed to nail Admasu by manipulating the court system. The kangaroo court hands down a 2.5-year prison sentence against Admasu for a made-up charge of copyright violation.

36. In 2008, Admasu offered Bruke et al yet another olive branch: Let us release the film. We’ll put the proceeds in an escrow account until the court gives a final verdict. Either way, Bruke was to still going to receive his initial 45% share in the profits of the film minus the advances he already had received. Bruke’s response was, “I will show the film after you die.”

Admasu is guilty of one thing for sure: Guilty of being naive about Woyanne.