Photo:  Reuters
Photo: Reuters

ITNL manages to rescue 2 of 7 Indian employees held hostage in Ethiopia by angry locals

The employees have been allowed to move out of the camp and are now in Addis Ababa

Mumbai: Two of IL&FS’s seven employees held hostage by locals in Ethiopia have been allowed to move out of the camp and are now in Addis Ababa, a press release from the company late on Saturday evening said. For the past week, seven Indian employees at 3 project camp sites of Elsamex SA, a subsidiary of IL&FS Transportation Networks Limited (ITNL), have not been allowed to leave their respective camp sites by the local community on account of unpaid dues by the project company. The press release said that ITNL had sought approval on November 16, 2018, through its authorized dealer bank, to remit funds overseas and that these approvals are awaited.

In an email to Mint, meanwhile, Neeraj Raghuwanshi, one of the seven employees, said that on Thursday, the local police in Wolliso, 190 km from Addis Ababa, issued summons to 4 of the employees. He said that the employees had given an undertaking to all local government agencies (that they would pay dues) and also sought a moratorium to pay taxes within 90 days.The letter mentions that the Indian embassy in Ethiopia is also working with the stranded employees but the workers are afraid that a court summons will be issued against them.

According to an email from Raghuwanshi to C Chandra Sekhar, Country Co-ordinator, ITNL Elsamex JV, the October and November salaries of local staff are still unpaid while the Indian workers have not been paid since July.

Raghuwanshi said in an earlier complaint that ITNL Elsamex, a road-building JV between ITNL and Spain’s Elsamex SA, have defaulted on payments of payroll tax, local employee pension and withheld tax payments for as long as 9 months. The JV also imported close to 400M ETB (Ethiopian Birr) worth of plant and equipment into

Ethiopia to execute the road projects on temporary importation. “But the projects are on the verge of termination and we will incur large amounts of import duty should management not export the machinery out of the country.. “We are worried of the fact that taxes and revenue offences are subject of criminal prosecution and our colleagues will be held by Ethiopian authorities for the misdeeds and negligence of our management," the letter said.

The email ended hinting that Raghuwanshi had been told by ITNL management to recall the undertaking promising payment to locals, which Raghuwanshi had been unable to recall.

He said that the request for the recall was “giving us a hint that our management does not want to admit or undertake to pay taxes and they just want to abandon the Ethiopian projects, offices including the fate of expatriate employees..We are losing trust in our management day after day."

A response to that email from Sekhar said: “I have written to management to understand the seriousness of the situation and I sincerely hope we will get a positive resolution. Let’s work as a team. Please be patient and focused."

Mint has reviewed copies of these emails between the stranded Indian employees and ITNL management.

The press release from IL&FS on Saturday said that “We continue to work towards resolving the situation and have been in touch with our employees in Ethiopia."

The central government took over control of bankrupt infrastructure financier IL&FS when it defaulted on several debt payments. The new company is currently overseen by a new board of directors led by banker Uday Kotak. IL&FS owes 91,000 crore in debt and a risk of its default has sent ripples through the Indian financial system.

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