Money & Banking

Four Indian IL&FS staff in Ethiopia released from captivity

Nandana James Mumbai | Updated on February 25, 2019

They had been held captive by Ethiopian employees over salary dues

The three-month-long captivity of four Indian IL&FS employees in Ethiopia came to an end with their release on Saturday night. The four have reached India.

They had been held captive by Ethiopian employees of ITNL-Elsamex JV Bure.

“IL&FS Transportation Network Ltd (ITNL), a part of the IL&FS Group, confirms that it has been able to secure the safe return of its four employees, working on projects in Ethiopia, to India,” IL&FS said in a statement.

“The company takes this opportunity to thank all the agencies including the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Indian Embassy in Addis Ababa and other authorities and regulators — in India and Ethiopia — for their tireless efforts towards facilitating the safe return of its employees from Ethiopia,” it added.

The MEA did not respond to queries as of going to press on Monday.

The details of the release and how it was secured after months of failed negotiations and roadblocks remain unknown as the released employees — Sukhvinder Singh, Bishnu Nagaraju, Chaitanya Hari and Khurram Imam — did not comment.

BusinessLine had reported that the Ethiopian employees had demanded an additional four months’ salary amounting to Ethiopian Birr 4.89 million to release the four Indian employees, though the company had met the actual salary dues by then. The company’s efforts to pay this amount ran into various hindrances, such as blocked funds and court cases.

The employees had been held hostage since November 24, 2018. They worked for ITNL-Elsamex JV Bure, a joint venture between ITNL and Elsamex SA. The trouble started when the JV failed to pay the Ethiopian employees their salaries for two months and statutory dues (income-tax, pensions and withholding tax) for eight months, which led them to hold the Indian employees hostage in return for payment.

Safety concerns

The hostage situation was riddled with safety concerns, with the locals even curbing food and water supplies occasionally.

The Indian employees had attempted to escape the camp with the help of the Ethiopian police, only to be thwarted by hordes of livid Ethiopian employees.

Even after IL&FS finally relented and paid the Ethiopian employees their dues, the Indian employees found themselves caught in the crossfire of demands for ransom, negotiations and other hurdles to secure their long-overdue release.

“Since mid-2018, under the instructions of ITNL, several of the Indian employees employed by its project companies had returned to India. However, a few Indian employees were not being allowed to leave Ethiopia for the past several weeks on account of unpaid local dues.

Of those, three employees returned between December 2018 and January 2019; and further four employees have returned to India on 24 February,” said IL&FS in its statement.

Immigration blocked

However, the statement was silent on the fate of Chandrasekhar Chamarthi, who is still in Ethiopia and remains under prosecution with his immigration blocked, though he is out on bail.

Chamarthi and two other employees in Addis Ababa were arrested for defaulting on tax payments by the ITNL-Elsamex JV. The other two employees were sent back to India by IL&FS. These three employees worked in Addis Ababa, about 500 km from Bure, where the other four employees were held hostage.

Published on February 25, 2019

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