Al-Ahram Weekly Online   14 - 20 April 2011
Issue No. 1043
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Hard times for Mubarak

Ousted former president Hosni Mubarak and members of his family have been detained for 15 days on charges ranging from the killing of protesters to the embezzlement of public funds, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

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Mubarak and his family face a bleak destiny

Ousted former president Hosni Mubarak faced what must have been his most difficult time thus far this week when he was incarcerated on 12 April for 15 days on charges that include ordering the killing of pro-democracy protesters on 28 January (Friday of Anger) and 2 February (Battle of the Camel), the embezzlement of public funds, illegal profiteering and the abuse of power.

Egyptian television reports indicated that Mubarak was brought for questioning by prosecution officials at the city of Al-Tor in South Sinai on 12 April, though other reports claimed that Mubarak had gone into Sharm El-Sheikh hospital for medical treatment in order to escape the questioning.

Members of the former president's family, including his wife Suzanne and his two sons Alaa and Gamal, were also summoned for questioning in Cairo by the Ministry of Justice's Illicit Gains Office (IGO) on charges of accruing vast fortunes by means of illegal profiteering.

Egypt's prosecutor-general ordered on 10 April that Mubarak be summoned for questioning over allegations that he had ordered the killing of protesters during the 25 January Revolution. According to a statement by the prosecution-general, "most senior police officers, including former interior minister Habib El-Adli and chief of Central Security Forces Ahmed Ramzi, emphasised that in his capacity as chairman of the Higher Police Council Mubarak had given them direct orders to open fire on protesters who gathered in Tahrir Square on 28 January, the Friday of Anger, to call for greater democracy and political freedoms."

The prosecutor-general's statement also emphasised that Mubarak had been responsible for the attacks launched on pro-democracy protesters in Tahrir Square on 2 February in what came to be known as the "Battle of the Camel". On this occasion thugs working for the former regime and riding on horses and camels had tried to kill protesters using Molotov cocktails, live ammunition and rocks, as well as swords and cudgels.

The prosecutor-general's announcement came less than an hour after Mubarak had denied in a television speech on Sunday that he had amassed enormous wealth during his three decades in power. The speech ignored accusations about the former president's role in the killing of pro-democracy protesters on 28 January, though a fact-finding committee report had emphasised that "Mubarak had had a hand in orchestrating the attacks against the protesters and that the number of people who were killed on that day exceeded 850."

In his pre-recorded speech, broadcast by the television channel Al-Arabiya on 10 April, Mubarak said he was willing to cooperate in any investigation in order to prove that he did not own property abroad or possess foreign bank accounts.

The former president said he only possessed a single account in an Egyptian bank and only had property in Egypt. He said that if he were asked to do so he would agree in writing to the prosecutor- general's working with other countries to investigate whether he or his wife had any bank accounts or owned any property abroad.

Mubarak also said he would allow prosecutors to investigate whether anyone in his family had acquired any real estate or property "directly or indirectly, commercially or for private use" since his assuming office as president in 1981.

Prosecutors at the IGO, a watchdog designed to investigate the wealth of public officials, indicated that "Mubarak and the members of his family must be summoned in person to face interrogation about their enormous wealth and explain how they accumulated it."

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Mansour El-Eissawi said that the police had been tasked with informing Mubarak of the charges levelled against him. "We sent him and his wife Suzanne and his two sons an official request to come and face questioning," El-Eissawi told the Dubai-based satellite channel Al-Arabiya on 11 April, adding that "the prosecutor-general's orders were clear that Mubarak and his two sons should be informed that they should come to face questioning before the court in Cairo's east district of Tagammu Al-Khamis."

El-Eissawi indicated that "the order does not include any provision that the police should use force to compel Mubarak to come to face questioning," adding that the police were ready to provide all necessary measures to safeguard Mubarak and his family when they came to face questioning.

"Adequate security will be available everywhere Mubarak and his family members go, in order to safeguard them against any attacks," El-Eissawi said, adding that "Mubarak has certainly received the prosecutor-general's orders, but I have no idea what his response to these orders has been."

After stepping down as president on 11 February, Mubarak left for his private residence in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh. Members of the ruling Higher Council of the Armed Forces now in charge of governing Egypt have emphasised that the army is not empowered to compel Mubarak to face questioning, with council member Ismail Etman saying that "the peace treaty with Israel does not allow the army to send forces to South Sinai".

While Mubarak faces charges of political and financial corruption, members of his family are slated to come under interrogation on the grounds that they accumulated enormous wealth by peddling influence and abusing power.

Minister of Justice Mohamed El-Guindi indicated that the IGO had been empowered to question Mubarak and his family. Over the last few days, many members of the former regime who have faced interrogation by IGO officials have been remanded in custody for 15 days pending investigation into the sources of their wealth.

Gamal, Mubarak's younger son whom many believe the former president was grooming to inherit power, has been remanded in custody over charges of illegal profiteering and accumulating enormous wealth over a short period of time.

Egypt's ruling military council formed a special judicial committee on 5 April to investigate press reports alleging that Mubarak and his family had accumulated enormous wealth during the former president's time in office. El-Guindi and IGO Chairman Assem El-Gohari have indicated that "reports show that Mubarak and his family secured vast fortunes over recent years, and they have yet to explain how they made them."

Most of the complaints filed with the IGO allege that Mubarak exploited his position as Egypt's president for over three decades to secure wealth estimated at billions of dollars from secret military deals and the sale of petroleum and natural gas to Israel.

The reports state that Mubarak used Hussein Salem, a business tycoon and former intelligence officer, as a "front man" to secure his enormous wealth.

The complaints and press reports also maintain that Mubarak's son Gamal exploited the influential connections of his father and his own senior role in the ex-ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to accumulate wealth.

Gamal Mubarak is accused of manipulating the country's privatisation programme for personal gain and to favour business cronies. Alaa Mubarak is alleged to have exploited his father's position in order to acquire plots of land in prestigious community developments around Cairo and in Alexandria and Sharm El-Sheikh, in cooperation with his father-in-law Magdi Rasekh.

It was disclosed that Mubarak and his wife Suzanne had maintained a secret account at the National Bank of Egypt's Heliopolis branch that is estimated to contain more than $145 million. Documents show that Alaa and Gamal have some LE100 million each on deposit at the same bank.

Several foreign countries have announced that they are ready to freeze the assets of Mubarak's family and some of their associates after he was forced from office in February after a wave of public protests.

Last Friday, pro-democracy protesters organised a demonstration in Cairo demanding that Mubarak be put on trial, some of them insisting that they would stage a sit-in until Mubarak was prosecuted and his enormous wealth confiscated.

Mubarak's wealth is estimated by some foreign magazines such as the US business magazine Forbes to be worth as much as $70 billion, with other foreign media such as the British newspaper The Guardian and the US channel ABC News estimating Mubarak's fortune at around the same figure back in February.

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