Money for freedom
Business tycoons in the ruling party of the ousted president Hosni Mubarak are willing to pay LE4 billion in exchange for dropping corruption charges levelled against them, Gamal Essam El-Din
Several businessmen and former cabinet ministers admitted on Monday that they had exploited their influential positions in the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) of ousted president Hosni Mubarak to buy large plots of land at dirt cheap prices.
The individuals include Ahmed El-Maghrabi, a former minister of housing who was very close to Mubarak's son Gamal; Zoheir Garana, the former minister of tourism; Yassin Mansour, a business tycoon who acts as an agent for several American companies in Egypt and board chairman of the Palm Hills Company for Real Estate Investments; and Mounir Ghabbour, a manufacturer of automobiles.
The list also includes Ahmed Ezz, former NDP secretary for organisational affairs and the right hand man of Gamal Mubarak. Ezz, El-Maghrabi and Garana said they are ready to pay LE4 billion in compensation for the price of the land they had bought.
El-Maghrabi is charged with exploiting his ministerial position to sell Mansour's Palm Hills, millions of metres of land, in various areas on the coast of the Red Sea, on the Cairo-Alex desert road, in 6 October governorate, and in Aswan south of Egypt. Garana also devoted several plots of land in Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh to Ghabbour and Hisham El-Hazek, another business tycoon.
Investigations showed that businessmen got the land at an exceptionally cheap price -- ranging from LE6 to LE36 per metre while the real price stands at between LE250 to LE300.
Meanwhile, a prosecution investigation showed former minister of agriculture Amin Abaza sold Mohamed Abul-Enein, owner of Ceramica Cleopatra Group, a senior NDP official and former chairman of parliament's industrial committee, land more than 250 feddans on the Cairo-Ismailia desert road. "The land was sold at the very cheap price of LE5.5 million while its real price is LE11 billion," a prosecution statement said, adding that "Abaza also sold NDP business tycoon Amr Mansi 12,000 feddans in Sinai." Not only was the land sold at a cheap price, said prosecution officials, but Mansi also gave himself the power to sell the land at a very high price to foreigners even though non- Egyptians are not legally allowed to own land in the Sinai Peninsula.
The prosecutor-general ordered a new set of businessmen be banned from travelling abroad and trading in assets on the stock market. A statement from Egypt's Bourse announced that the list contains names of former ministers, businessmen and their families. Most prominent of these are Mohamed Magdi Rassikh, brother-in-law of Alaa Mubarak, Mahmoud Yehia Ali El-Gammal, father-in- law of Gamal Mubarak; Mohamed Abul-Enein, owner of Ceramica Cleopatra and a former chairman of parliament's industrial committee; and the owners of listed companies, Safwan Sabet, owner of Juhayna food company and Mounir Ghabbour. The former prime minister Ahmed Nazif and the former minister of finance Youssef Boutros Ghali were also on the list. Most are accused of committing a plethora of corruption practices, ranging from buying land at cheap prices to influence peddling to secure illegal wealth.
In the same context, Cairo's Criminal Court on Sunday ordered that Mounir Thabet, the brother of Hosni Mubarak's wife Suzanne; Hussein Salem, a tycoon who is widely believed the business façade of Hosni Mubarak; and the former minister of trade and industry Rachid Mohamed Rachid be prevented from using their banking or real estate assets pending an investigation of profiteering charges levelled against them. Salem is a partner of Israeli businessmen in owning the East Mediterranean Gas (EMG) company which monopolises the selling of Egyptian natural gas to Israel. Former minister of petroleum Sameh Fahmi and former prime minister Atef Ebeid face accusations that they helped Salem monoplise the selling of gas to Israel in exchange for bribes and under orders from Mubarak himself.
In the meantime, Anas El-Fiqi, the former minister of information and Osama El-Sheikh, the former chairman of the Radio and Television Union (RTU), face accusations of embezzling millions of state money. Investigation reports show that they allocated a big part of RTU's money to spending on NDP parliamentary election campaigns and in return received money in the form of kickbacks and bribes. El-Fiqi and the NDP's former secretary for organisational affairs are also allegedly accused of entrusting a media company with planning a promotion campaign for Mubarak to be re-elected for the sixth time next September.
"The company was allowed to get a LE400 million contract against a bribe of LE8 million to El-Fiqi and another LE8 million to Ezz," said investigation reports. In a TV address on 2 February, Mubarak said he would not run for president next September.