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

Top henchmen in jail

Four high-ranking officials of ousted president Hosni Mubarak's regime were remanded in custody pending an investigation into charges of illegal profiteering and abuse of the law, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

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The once leading figures of the National Democratic Party, Gamal Mubarak, Ezz, Azmi and Sherif are now behind bars

The pressure exerted by protests on the so-called Friday of Cleansing in Tahrir Square on 8 April apparently paid off, resulting this week in the arrest of four leading officials of the ex-regime of deposed president Hosni Mubarak.

Topping the list was former prime minister Ahmed Nazif who was remanded in custody on 10 April for 15 days pending investigations into the misappropriation of public funds. Nazif is accused of giving direct orders to the Interior Ministry to buy metal plates for cars from a German company rather than allowing a competitive bid to be tended.

An initial report by the Public Funds Prosecution said a committee, including professors from Ain Shams University's Faculty of Engineering, stressed that "the German company was allowed to export the plates to the Interior Ministry although the price of each one was very high, not to mention that the locally-produced ones were cheap and of good quality."

The committee added that "this poor transaction cost the state's treasury LE92 million and as a result citizens wanting to get a driving licence were forced to pay high fees to compensate for the big loss."

Among the other accusations levelled against Nazif is that he authorised the sale of a large plot of land in 6 October at a knock-down price to establish the Nile University. Nazif was later found to be one of the university's shareholders, leaving him open to accusations that he profited illegally from his position.

Nazif was chosen Egypt's prime minister in July 2004. It was a surprise decision by Mubarak. An electrical and computer engineer for 22 years, during which he displayed no political ambitions, Nazif was appointed Egypt's minister of telecommunication and information technology in October, 1999. Many believe that it is Gamal, the younger son of Mubarak, who wanted Nazif as prime minister because of his liberal economic affiliations and lack of political ambitions.

On 11 April, Safwat El-Sherif, one of the ex-Mubarak regime's longest-serving and most influential politicians, was also remanded in custody for 15 days pending an investigation into accusations of illegal profiteering. During an interrogation by the Ministry of Justice's Illicit Gains Office (IGO) on Monday, it was estimated that El-Sherif and his family are in possession of at least 20 villas, 12 deluxe apartment buildings and large plots of land in many high-class housing compounds around Cairo, including Tagammu Khamis, Qattamiya Golf Heights and Marina resort, close to Alexandria on the Mediterranean.

El-Sherif is also accused of helping his son, Ashraf, set up a media company, which entered into lucrative business deals with the state-run Radio and Television Union.

More serious, El-Sherif, 78, is believed to have exploited his eight years as secretary-general of Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to mastermind the deadly attack on peaceful protesters in what became widely known as the "Battle of the Camel" on 2 February. El-Sherif was summoned on 12 February for questioning on charges of ordering two former NDP MPs to organise the attack.

As many as 26 thugs arrested two hours after the battle allegedly admitted that the two MPs -- representing the district of Haram in parliament -- had hired them to launch an attack on camel and horseback against peaceful protesters for LE300 each.

The interrogation and jailing of El-Sherif came after Cairo's Criminal Court upheld the IGO's order that the banking deposits, assets and property of El-Sherif, the former chairman of the Shura Council, be frozen.

The IGO order also included Zakaria Azmi, Mubarak's 21-year chief of presidential staff, and Ibrahim Suleiman, a former minister of housing between 1994 and 2005.

On 7 April, Azmi, 73, was taken into custody for 15 days pending an investigation into charges of illegal profiteering levelled against him. Azmi is widely believed to have used a number of businessmen as henchmen to secure illegal gains. One of these is Mamdouh Ismail, a business tycoon whom Azmi helped to monopolise maritime passenger transport between Egypt and Saudi Arabia across the Red Sea.

In 2006 Azmi is thought to have helped Ismail flee Egypt after one of his ships, the Al-Salam 98, sank in the Red Sea, killing more than 1,300 Egyptians.

During interrogation, Azmi was taken aback by IGO reports emphasising that he is in possession of a big number of palaces and villas in Cairo's new high-class suburbs and in Alexandria, not to mention farms in Aswan.

Azmi is Mubarak's closest confidante, having a wealth of information about his secret life and business deals. He was appointed Mubarak's chief of staff in 1989. He was also very close to Gamal Mubarak and played a role in preparing the ground for him to inherit power from his father.

One of Gamal Mubarak's closest friends was also arrested and put in jail for 15 days: Ibrahim Kamel, a business tycoon and ex-ruling party heavyweight official. Kamel was arrested by the military on 9 April, whereby a swiftly convened military court ordered him remanded in custody for 15 days, pending investigation into accusations that he had been involved in instigating violent clashes between demonstrators and army forces early last Saturday morning in Tahrir.

Army reports emphasised that two of Kamel's aides were arrested in the early hours of 9 April, inciting demonstrators to clash with the military police and not to abide by the curfew hours which extend from 2am to 5am.

Kamel's name was implicated in the so-called Battle of the Camel on 2 February in which NDP-hired thugs attacked pro-democracy protesters in Tahrir Square using swords and Molotov cocktails.

Another ex-NDP official, Maged El-Sherbini, was also put in custody for 15 days on 10 April pending an investigation into accusations that he also had a hand in organising the Battle of the Camel.

Also on 10 April, former minister of housing Suleiman was put in custody for 15 days pending an investigation into accusations of illegal profiteering, graft and forging his financial statements. IGO officials found that Suleiman, by exploiting his 11 years as minister of housing, achieved vast wealth, including five villas, one palace, one chalet, five expensive cars, six large plots of land, four real estate investment firms and export-import companies. The reports of the Administrative Control Authority (ACA) indicated that Suleiman received bribes from several ex-ruling NDP business tycoons and officials to grant them large plots of land at low prices. One of these is Magdi Rasekh, the father-in-law of Mubarak's older son Alaa, who allegedly received big plots of land in 6 October governorate from Suleiman at dirt cheap prices. Rasekh, the owner of the Sodic Real Estate Investment Company, is believed to have fled Egypt.

Cairo's Criminal Court is expected on 12 April to uphold an IGO order aiming to freeze the banking deposits, assets and property of Fathi Sorour, Egypt's former and longest serving chairman of the People's Assembly and a member of the NDP's politburo. The court order would open the way for interrogating Sorour by IGO officials on the charge of possessing an enormous wealth by means of exploiting his influential political positions.

Like El-Sherif and Azmi, Sorour, 79, is also thought to have amassed a large portfolio of prime real estate, villas, and apartments. The IGO is currently investigating his wealth and is expected to be summoned soon to face charges.

On 10 April, the prosecutor-general ordered that a freeze be placed on the banking deposits, assets and property owned by two other senior officials of the Mubarak regime: Youssef Wali, a former prime minister and minister of agriculture (1982-2004); and Sameh Fahmi, a former minister of petroleum (1999-2011). The freeze also included the assets of Wali and Fahmi's assets. Wali is accused of helping many local and foreign businessmen including Saudi Prince Al-Walid Bin Talal obtain thousands of feddans in the agricultural reclamation project of Toshka at a cheap price. Wali told investigators that he had given Bin Talal the land upon orders from Mubarak himself.

Fahmi is accused of helping Mubarak's front man and business tycoon Hussein Salem to monopolise the sale of natural gas to Israel at a cheap price.

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