Letter claiming private bank pledged funds to Ethiopian army to fight Amhara rebels is fake

The renewed dispute over land between rival forces from Amhara and Tigray regions in northern Ethiopia has caused the displacement of tens of thousands of people. This has further stoked the crisis in the troubled Amhara region where local militia are fighting against Ethiopian troops. Online users have shared a screenshot of a purported letter from the Ethiopian Lion Bank confirming that it was funding the army's war against rebels in the Amhara region. However, the document is fabricated. The bank rejected the claims and highlighted inconsistencies with the fake letter.

“Anbesa Bank allocated a budget of 200 million birr to support the genocide against the Amhara people,” read the post shared on X on April 27, 2024 in Amharic.

“The entire Amhara people and Ethiopians who stand with the truth should respond adequately... Fano shall win!”

<span>Screenshot of the false post, taken on May 7, 2024</span>
Screenshot of the false post, taken on May 7, 2024

The post contains a screenshot of a purported letter from Lion International Bank, a private financial institution in Ethiopia. In Amharic, the equivalent name for the bank is Anbessa.

Addressed to the Ethiopian defence ministry, the document has all the appearances of an official dispatch.

“The Ministry of Defence of the FDRE was established to uphold the constitution and our bank is committed to supporting the government’s fight against extremist forces in the Amhara region,” it reads.

FDRE refers to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

“Therefore, we would like to announce that the Board of Directors of Anbessa Bank has pledged its support to this sacred action and provided two hundred million (200,000,000) birr to our defence forces... Rest assured that similar support will continue in the future.”

The US dollar equivalent of two hundred million birr is around $3.4 million.

The letter carries the bank's seal and features what looks like the signature of its vice president of resources management, Gebru Meshesha.

Similar posts were also shared on Facebook here and here.

Renewed regional dispute 

Fighting between the Ethiopian army and the Fano militia group has plagued the Amhara region since July 2023.

The conflict widened in mid-April when forces from the Tigray region clashed with Fano over disputed areas including Alamata and Raya Alamata. The United Nations stated more than 50,000 people were displaced from the contested territories (archived here).

The African Union (AU) also expressed deep concern (archived here) about the escalating tensions and called on all parties to “urgently halt hostilities”.

Amharan troops occupied Raya Alamata in southern Tigray during the two-year war between Ethiopia's military and regional Tigrayan forces. Amhara forces, who backed the federal army during the conflict, were meant to withdraw under a 2022 peace deal but never did.

In Ethiopia, banks are established along ethnic lines (archived here) and attract customers from the same ethnic group. In the case of Lion Bank, the owners and founders are mainly from Tigray (archived here).

However, the letter circulating online is a hoax.

Fabricated letter 

AFP Fact Check used an authentic letter from the bank found on its official Facebook page to compare both versions.

Although not easily visible in online copies, we noted that letters (archived here) from the bank typically feature a watermark of the company’s logo -- an element missing in the fabricated document.

 

<span>Screenshot of an original letter from Lion Bank with a watermark (left) and the hoax letter without one, taken on May 7, 2024</span>
Screenshot of an original letter from Lion Bank with a watermark (left) and the hoax letter without one, taken on May 7, 2024

The fake letter based on the Ethiopian calendar is allegedly from August 16, 2015, which corresponds to August 22, 2023, in the Gregorian calendar — a date that does not match the fighting timeline.

In August 2023, the Amhara conflict was about a month old and pitted Fano rebels against the Ethiopian army.

But the clashes between Fano and Tigrayan forces over disputed lands only flared up in earnest last month.

Meanwhile, Lion Bank refuted the claim on its official Facebook page on April 27, 2024 (archived here). It said the fake letter was based on a message sent to a construction company regarding the termination of a contract.

The two letters bear the same stamp and signature but differ in content and details on the letterhead and footer. These disparities were illustrated by comparing the two specimens.

“Individuals with evil ideas are trying to mislead our dear customers by photoshopping the letter featuring the bank's logo, names and stamps, which the bank had previously issued for another purpose,” it said in its statement.