No reprieve for the Mubaraks
The ruling military was forced to dispel media reports suggesting that the army might forgive ousted president Hosni Mubarak and his family in exchange for a public apology and giving up their wealth. But many remain wary, reports Gamal Essam El-Din
Allegations that ousted president Hosni Mubarak and members of his family offered to give up their wealth in return for settling corruption charges levelled against them were received with widescale anger from several political forces, led by the youth movements of the 25 January Revolution. This, in spite of the fact that the ruling Higher Council of the Armed Forces (HCAF) yesterday strongly denied that it might accept an apology from the Mubaraks in return for granting them freedom.
The 54th communiqué on the council's official Facebook page said, "What has been published by the media concerning granting a pardon for former president Hosni Mubarak and his family is completely untrue." The HCAF statement stressed that "the Higher Council does not interfere in any way in the legal procedures against the symbols of the former regime, as this is solely the responsibility of the great Egyptian judiciary."
The statement urged the media to exercise caution before publishing any news about the deposed president "so as not to have a hand in disseminating malicious rumours and creating a gap in confidence between the army and the people."
Hours after news that Mubarak and members of his family might be granted a pardon, members of the 25 January Coordination Committee, which includes six dissenting movements, were mobilised to warn that accepting an apology from Mubarak or giving him amnesty could force people out onto the streets again. "We strongly reject any kind of reconciliation with the ousted president or members of his family," the statement said, emphasising that "elements of the Mubarak regime should face a criminal and a political trial."
The Youth Revolution Coalition said that "if it is true that Mubarak or any member of his family or his entourage might be exempted from trial, all youth movements will rush again in million- man demonstrations to Tahrir Square to keep the victories and gains of the 25 January Revolution intact."
The coalition said "there are growing, worrying signs that Mubarak, his family and the major symbols of his defunct regime might not face trial and that some of them will be freed from jail."
The coalition pointed to Mubarak's wife Suzanne who on Tuesday was exempted from 15 days in custody in return for giving up her wealth, including a villa and a bank account.
"It is also worrying that Fathi Sorour, the former parliamentary speaker, and Zakaria Azmi, Mubarak's former chief of staff, were freed from jail on bail on grounds that they gained their wealth legally."
News was also rampant that Safwat El-Sherif, one of Mubarak's longest serving henchmen and the former chairman of the Shura Council, would also be freed from jail.
Several revolutionary youth movements and opposition forces strongly believe that some Arab oil-rich Gulf countries -- particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- have stepped up pressure on the HCAF to get Mubarak released from prison and not to stand trial in return for granting Egypt millions of dollars in the form of economic assistance.
Abdel-Khalek Farouq, an economic analyst, told Al-Ahram Weekly that "going hand in hand with this pressure is that most senior officials are now trying their best to paint a bleak picture of economic conditions in Egypt in a bid to rally people behind scrapping the idea of sending Mubarak and his henchmen to trial and to concentrate instead on production and development."
There were rumours on Tuesday that Mubarak, whose 30-year-rule ended on 11 February when he was deposed from power, intends to issue an apology to the nation in return for an amnesty. Mubarak is currently being questioned not just for ill-gotten wealth but for issuing orders to fire on protesters in Tahrir Square during the height of the demonstrations.
Mubarak's two sons Alaa and Gamal, held in prison pending investigation on corruption charges, are also believed to have signed papers offering to give up their wealth in return for freedom.
However, as the Weekly went to press on Wednesday these scenarios had not been confirmed, and the Mubaraks remained charged with having accumulated vast fortunes in Europe and America.
It was disclosed last week that the Mubarak family has a bank account in a Swiss bank containing some 410 million Swiss francs ($465 million), and Mubarak's offer to apologise for his misdemeanours while president was received with indignation by revolutionary forces.
On 17 May, Assem El-Gohari, chair of the Ministry of Justice's Illicit Gains Office (IGO), surprised observers by ordering that Suzanne Mubarak be exempted from custody. El-Gohari's order came after Suzanne, 70, decided to turn over property to the state that included a villa valued at LE20 million in the Cairo district of Heliopolis and a LE24 million account (around $4 million) with the National Bank of Egypt.
El-Gohari indicated that Suzanne Mubarak had offered to supply a list of her assets in Egypt and abroad, and that "she is ready to hand over all her property to the state."
He said that Mubarak's family lawyer Farid El-Deeb had provided documents certifying that "the LE20-million Heliopolis villa is not Suzanne's property and is now owned by the sovereign state authorities."
He also said that a LE24-million bank account held in Suzanne Mubarak's name would be turned over to the Ministry of Finance. As a result, El-Gohari said, "Suzanne Mubarak will be set free pending further information indicating that she is in possession of other property or money."
Suzanne Mubarak had earlier suffered what was perhaps the worst week of her life when she was remanded in custody for 15 days pending investigations into her wealth, making her the last member of the Mubarak family to be imprisoned on corruption charges.
However, she was not moved from hospital to serve the 15 days of detention at the Qanater Women's Prison north of Cairo. Instead, she was taken to Sharm El-Sheikh Hospital to receive treatment for high blood pressure and a nervous collapse. According to hospital reports, she had suffered a heart attack following the detention order against her issued by El-Gohari.
Suzanne Mubarak was questioned on 13 May, when investigators accused her of peddling influence as the wife of the former president in order to enrich herself. A report by the Administrative Control Agency (ACA) had indicated that she had accumulated "wealth estimated at some LE20 million, as well as a large villa in Heliopolis".
The ACA report also accused Suzanne Mubarak of embezzling public money in her capacity as chair of various non-governmental organisations. The amounts are "$145 million granted to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, more than LE1 billion in funding from the 'Reading for All' project and millions allocated to the Heliopolis Development Association and the Suzanne Mubarak Peace Movement," the ACA report said.
Suzanne Mubarak has denied all wrongdoing, vowing to submit documents proving her innocence. She has also insisted that she does not possess large bank accounts. Though she had opened accounts to process money due to her charitable organisations, such funds "were never used for personal matters, but were spent on social development projects," she said.
She said she did not object to handing over the Heliopolis villa to the state. "We are a very modest family, and I never received a salary or a pension from the state," she said.
Meanwhile, Hosni Mubarak is in custody pending investigation into his wealth. An ACA report has indicated that Mubarak owns a Sharm El-Sheikh palace estimated to be worth some LE36 million, not including the value of swimming pools and other annexes, including villas and gardens.
Mubarak has said that he bought the palace from business associate Hussein Salem in 1994 for LE500,000. "At that time, the area was secluded, and it was a good idea for the president of the republic to acquire property in order to encourage investors to come to Sharm El-Sheikh," Mubarak said.
Mubarak's official salary is estimated to have been LE8,000 a month, though "pensions relating to my war service made my total income closer to LE100,000," Mubarak said.
Mubarak said that the $145 million granted to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina had been put in his name. "It is true that this money was not declared to the library's trustees, but this was in order to protect it from trivial expenditure," Mubarak said, adding that he had not touched the money himself.
The money had been collected as a result of "my good personal relationships with Arab kings and emirs," he said. Mubarak and his wife have since signed papers authorising IGO officials to request local and foreign banks for details of their accounts.
Collecting finance for NGOs seems to have been a Mubarak family trait, and Mubarak's sons Alaa and Gamal are also accused of setting up charitable organisations in order to appropriate large sums of money.
It is alleged that Gamal Mubarak set up his Future Generation Foundation to collect money from businessmen, while Alaa is charged with establishing his Good Society of Mohamed Alaa Mubarak in order to collect funds to be spent on orphans.
Both Gamal and Alaa have been forced to provide lists of their assets in Egypt and abroad to the authorities since Egypt's 25 January Revolution, their aim perhaps also being to buy their freedom in exchange for disclosing details of their bank accounts and assets. (see p.3)