13 - 19 June 2002
Issue No.590
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Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Recommend this page

The business of bribery

In the second harshest verdict handed down to an official charged with corruption this year, Maher El-Guindi, a former governor, was sentenced to seven years. Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Click to view caption
El-Guindi bows his head as he is escorted out of court; Foda's tears of joy (r), despite currently serving a five-year term in another case
On 5 June, the Supreme State Security Court sentenced Maher El-Guindi, a former governor of Gharbiya and Giza provinces, to a seven year prison sentence and a fine of LE2,000. The court said it had no doubt whatsoever that "El-Guindi was implicated in a plethora of crimes of bribery".

El-Guindi was found guilty of abusing his post by receiving more than LE1 million in cash bribes. According to the Court, he would also ask businessmen for bribes in the shape of jewellery, perfume, boxes of fruit and even fisikh (salted fish), in return for illegal favours.

El-Guindi's was the second biggest bribery scandal trial of a former senior official this year. The first, was on 28 February when the Supreme State Security Court jailed former Finance Minister Mohieddin El-Gharib to eight years with hard labour. El-Gharib, three customs officials and three businessmen were found guilty of profiteering and receiving bribes in kind from three tycoon importers, in return for allowing them to evade payment of LE29 million in customs duties.

El-Guindi's case involved seven other defendants: an official at the Illicit Gains Department, a businessman, three engineers, a professor at Cairo University's Faculty of Commerce (the son of former prime minister Abdel-Aziz Hegazi), and a former secretary to the minister of culture. One other defendant besides El-Guindi, the illicit gains official Ali Ismail, was sentenced to five years imprisonment and fined LE2,000. Ismail was accused of receiving a paltry LE150 and some bribes in kind from the minister of culture's former secretary Mohamed Foda. In return, he obstructed complaints lodged against the latter with the Illicit Gains Department. The other defendants were acquitted of all charges.

Foda, one of the acquitted defendants, is nonetheless currently serving a five-year prison term and was fined LE6.5 million in January 2000. He was found guilty of abusing his position at the Ministry of Culture, acting as a "broker" between senior state officials and private businesses in return for bribes and commissions.

The court said Foda, 32, began his career as an office boy at the ministry, but after a year he was promoted to secretary at the culture minister's press office. "Foda abused this position to develop in four years strong crony connections with several ministers and ex-Giza governor El-Guindi. This helped him secure almost LE7 million in illicit gains in a record period of time," the court said.

Foda was acquitted in the El-Guindi case by virtue of the Penal Code's article 107. This article acquits "brokers" charged with bribery , on condition that they fully admit their crimes.

The relationship between Foda and El- Guindi culminated in Egypt's biggest bribery scandal. Foda acted as a "broker" between El- Guindi and a businessman by the name of Amr Heleika (chairman of the Pyramids Real Estate and Tourist Development Company). El- Guindi received hefty bribes -- more than LE500,000 in cash plus other bribes in kind -- for arranging the sale to Heleika of a 130- feddan plot of land along the Cairo-Alexandria desert highway.

El-Guindi's case was first investigated by the Administrative Control Authority (ACA) -- which acts as the government's prime watchdog -- in August 1997, just a month after El- Guindi was appointed governor of Giza. ACA's Chairman Hitler Tantawi told Al- Ahram newspaper last week: "ACA will spare no effort in cracking down on corruption and rounding up administrative 'fat cats' involved in bribery cases."

ACA's efforts were highly praised by the Supreme State Court which also sentenced on Monday 15 senior officials of the Egyptian Copper Works Company -- a public sector company -- and businessmen to jail terms, ranging from 3 to 15 years with hard labour. They were also fined LE68 million. Six of the company's officials, which included the company's board chairman, were found guilty of taking bribes from 9 businessmen in return for allowing them to acquire huge quantities of the company's products for free.

In recent weeks, a succession of former and current senior officials and members of parliament have been questioned by ACA investigators and prosecutors, and referred to the Supreme State Security Court for trial on bribery charges.

On 17 July, the Court will begin hearings in the case of El-Nasr Castings Company (NCC), Egypt's main pipe manufacturer. In this case, NCC's chairman Osama Abdel-Wahab and 30 of his aides are accused of profiteering (in the form of receiving bribes), of facilitating the illegal acquisition of public funds and of squandering LE1.4 billion of the company's money.

Last week, the case began to take on political dimensions. On Sunday, the People's Assembly decided to postpone the discussion of an interpellation (a question that must be answered by cabinet ministers) submitted by Wafdist MP Mohamed Abdel-Alim on the NCC case. Abdel-Alim took the government to task for failing to investigate NCC's corruption at an earlier date.

"The Chairman of the Central Auditing Agency announced last week that the agency had prepared reports a long time ago on corruption in NCC, but the government had not cared enough to investigate the cases," Abdel- Alim told parliament. "This is why my interpellation is about the government's political responsibility in confronting corruption and nipping it in the bud."

Housing Minister Ibrahim Suleiman also revealed to journalists last week that he played a role in referring NCC's Abdel-Wahab to court. "I warned two years ago that NCC's pipe products were of low quality. This has cost the housing ministry alone a loss of LE159 million," Suleiman said.

On 13 July, the court will also begin hearings on what the local press dubbed "the compensations" case. In this, two parliamentary deputies for Al-Fayoum governorate of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) are allegedly charged with forging official documents. They are also charged with paying out bribes to obtain as much as LE162 million under false pretences in compensation from the state for lands sequestrated by the government in 1961. The two NDP MPs, Bahaaeddin El- Miligi and Hussein Eweiss, were stripped of their parliamentary immunity on 11 May. On 28 May, the Assembly's Legislative Committee approved stripping another NDP MP, Salouma Hakim, of his parliamentary immunity so that he could be investigated on charges of tax evasion, forging documents and paying bribes.

The Court is also set very soon to begin hearings in yet another bribery scandal at the Irrigation Ministry. In this case, nine high- ranking officials at the ministry are charged with squandering LE43 million of the ministry's funds, as well as receiving LE30 million in bribes and kickbacks for awarding certain businessmen construction project contracts. The bribes were allegedly in cash, Mercedes cars and jewellery.

Prosecutor-General Maher Abdel-Wahed announced his decision to refer a record number of corrupt officials to court to face trial. "The business of bribery has greatly flourished in recent times," he said. "We are now in the process of waging a relentless war, aimed at stemming the tide of bribery scandals and facing up to proliferating corruption."

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