Ethiopian Government's Confiscation of American Citizen's Property
Washington, Mar 2, 2005 - Mr. Speaker, I am introducing a bill today concerning the Ethiopian government’s confiscation of property owned by US citizens and the Ethiopian government’s arrogance and intransigence in the face of efforts to rectify the situation.
Mr. Speaker, the Berhane family are constituents and friends. They now live in Huntington Beach, California. They are black African immigrants who fled the establishment of a communist regime in Ethiopia in the 1970’s.
At one time, the Berhane Family owned the National Alcohol and Liquor Factory (NALF) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Marxist Regime expropriated this property and drove the Berhane Family into exile. Well, that Marxist government fell more than a decade ago. The current government agreed in principle to return all illegally expropriated property, but it has steadfastly refused to return the Berhane Family’s factory or even to offer them just compensation. When after intense negotiations, Mr. Berhane Gebremedhin was nearing a settlement with the current Ethiopian government, in early 1999 Mr. Berhane was summarily deported to Eritrea. It seems the distillery is one confiscated property the heavy handed rulers of Ethiopia refuse to return to its rightful owners. Perhaps because this is one of the few businesses that make a profit. The smell of corruption at the highest levels of the Ethiopian government is hard to miss.
Mr. Speaker, this matter should have been settled years ago. This property should be returned to the Berhane Family, or just compensation offered.
The Berhane Family claim is supported in a finding of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. So this is not an issue of who is right or wrong. It is a matter of arrogance and probably corruption on the part of the Ethiopian hierarchy.
Mr. Speaker, Congress has tools at its disposal to address this injustice. This matter should determine Ethiopia’s eligibility for any US Government assistance. OPIC has already pulled back. I am introducing legislation today that will prevent Ethiopia from receiving any benefits from US government sources until it deals honestly and fairly with the claims of these American citizens.
It is a tragedy that the Ethiopian government is risking the well-being of its people because of its intransigence in dealing with the just claim of an American family. It is time for Congress to address this situation.
Mr. Speaker, this act withholds all appropriated U.S. Federal dollars to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia until private property claims by American citizens and confiscated by the Ethiopian government before the enactment of this act is either returned or said U.S. citizens are justly compensated as certified by the U.S. Secretary of State.
With the exception of emergency humanitarian aid, this prohibition on funding includes but is not limited to accounts of Economic Support Funds, the Export-Import Bank, Foreign Military Financing, the Global AIDS Initiative, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.
This bill further directs that U.S. representatives to international organizations be required to oppose aid to Ethiopia under the same conditions.
This bill further directs that the US Secretary of State report annually on outstanding property claims by American citizens against the Ethiopian Government
Mr. Speaker, these aims are perfectly reasonable and ought to be adopted by this Congress.
Mr. Speaker, I am more generally concerned about other governments who do this, be they Cuba, Iran, or wherever. I intend to introduce a similar, broader bill, denying aid to all foreign governments who deny proper reimbursement of American citizens’ legitimate property claims.
We should stand up for justice for American citizens.