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Death That Spurred Ethiopian Conspiracy Theories Is Ruled a Suicide

Saturday September 8, 2018
Hadra Ahmed

A raft of theories grew up around the death of Semegnew Bekele, who was the unofficial ambassador of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a $4 billion project opposed by Egypt.Credit/Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — The police in Ethiopia said on Friday that the engineer who had been in charge of an enormous dam being built in the northwest of the country had taken his own life. The body of the engineer, Semegnew Bekele, was found slumped behind the wheel of his car in the capital, Addis Ababa, in July.

Mr. Semegnew had been the unofficial ambassador for the $4 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is expected to generate about 6,400 megawatts of hydroelectricity — more than double Ethiopia’s current production — and could earn the country hundreds of millions of dollars through energy exports.

Egypt has opposed the construction, saying it will cut into the already strained supply of water from the Nile, and the role of Mr. Semegnew had included trying to reassure Cairo that the dam posed no threat, as well as selling the project’s benefits to Ethiopian taxpayers, who were footing the bill.

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A raft of conspiracy theories had sprung up around his death, with some speculating that he had become a target because he was going to expose corruption linked to the dam construction and others wondering whether Egypt had somehow played a role in his killing.

According to the investigation, which took more than a month, Mr. Semegnew killed himself with a gun found at the crime scene, which was registered under his name, the federal police commissioner, Zeinu Jamal, told reporters on Friday.

Mr. Jamal said that investigators had examined phone calls made by Mr. Semegnew and letters he sent to his daughter.

“It sounded like he was saying goodbye to everyone,” Mr. Jamal said.

The letters and phone call transcripts have not been released.

The police said the engine of Mr. Semegnew’s car had been running at the time of his death, adding that the vehicle, which was found in Meskel Square in Addis Ababa, was on automatic lock.

Mr. Semegnew had been in the capital to give a news conference addressing concerns about delays in the project, which had been expected to be delivered this year, and allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

Mr. Jamal said that Mr. Semegnew appeared to have been feeling pressure from those delays and from worry about the extra costs they were incurring. He added that, despite the finding, investigations into the death were continuing.

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