(Reuters) – An Ethiopian Airlines pilot has been convicted in absentia of hijacking his own plane and flying it to Geneva, 13 months after he surrendered to police there and sought asylum.
The high court in Addis Ababa issued its ruling on Monday and said it would sentence Hailemedhin Abera Tegegn on Friday. If he ever returns to his home country he could face up to 20 years in jail.
Hailemedhin, second-in-command on the Feb. 17, 2014 flight to Rome, took control of the aircraft when the main pilot left the cockpit for a toilet break, Swiss police said.
He then sent a coded signal announcing he had hijacked his own plane.
With the jet on the tarmac, an unarmed Hailemedhin scrambled down an emergency rope and surrendered to police without harming the 193 passengers on board the Boeing aircraft, 139 of them Italians, 11 Americans and four French.
Swiss police have said Hailemedhin asked for asylum because he did not feel safe in Ethiopia.
Opposition politicians and rights campaigners often accuse the government of stifling dissent, a charge dismissed by the government.
Authorities say there have been growing numbers of people from north and east Africa traveling to Europe to flee poverty and conflicts — though Hailemedhin left behind a well-paid job on the flagship airline in one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies.
Ethiopian officials said at the time Addis Ababa may ask for his extradition.
There were no details on his current whereabouts.
(This story corrects to say conviction made late Monday not Tuesday)
(Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Andrew Heavens)