Stepping up the money hunt
Hopes are high that a newly-formed national commission will be able to recover money smuggled abroad by members of the former Mubarak regime, writes Gamal Essam El-Din
Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Mursi is about to issue a presidential decree to set up a national commission entrusted with recovering money smuggled outside Egypt by the family and cronies of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak.
The six-article decree states that the new commission will open an inquiry into all reports and lawsuits regarding money smuggled out of Egypt since 1992. A technical secretariat will be formed to take the measures necessary to trace the wealth of Mubarak, his family and henchmen.
"The secretariat will conduct negotiations with all international and regional organisations and foreign countries to gather as much information about Mubarak's wealth as possible," Article 2 of the decree says.
Article 5 states that the Ministry of Finance will open a special bank account at the Central Bank of Egypt for money recovered from abroad. Article 6 will make it obligatory for all state institutions to surrender the documents necessary for the commission to move forward.
Some sources put Mubarak's wealth at more than $70 billion, most of it in the UK and Switzerland. The fact that Mubarak's wife Suzanne is Anglo-Egyptian caused the family to invest most of its wealth in England, sources say. Legal experts in Egypt have lamented the fact that the British authorities are not helping in recovering money possessed by the Mubarak family in the UK.
The UK government announced this week that it was planning to send an expert to Egypt to help recover Mubarak's money. While UK Foreign Secretary William Hague once said that the UK was ready to offer all the help necessary to Egypt to recover the stolen money, his statement has never given rise to any concrete steps.
Hossam Eissa, a legal expert and member of the new commission, said "there should be adequate documented information about the money stolen and smuggled out of Egypt, so that European countries will assist in recovering this money."
Eissa criticised the UK for not doing enough to help Egypt in tracing the Mubarak family's illegal wealth in the UK. A report by the BBC this week indicated that the wealth of Mubarak's family in the UK was estimated at some 85 billion pounds sterling (about $135 billion) and that regime cronies also possess more than 15 billion pounds sterling in assets and personal accounts in the UK.
The report said a house owned by Gamal Mubarak in London's Knightsbridge district is estimated to be worth 10 million pounds sterling.
The wealth of the cronies of the former Mubarak regime has been the focus of public attention lately, when an investigative judge decided to place former presidential candidate and Mubarak's last prime minister Ahmed Shafik on a watch list on 29 August.
Shafik will be questioned over alleged corruption, notably by helping Mubarak's two sons Alaa and Gamal to obtain 40,000 metres of land near Ismailia at the low price of 70 piastres per metre. A complaint filed by Essam Sultan, a former parliamentary deputy and lawyer, alleged that Shafik had used his position as chair of the Association of Air Pilots in 1993 to sell Gamal and Alaa the land.
On Monday, the investigative judge, Osama El-Saidi, ordered that Nabil Shukri, former chair of the association, be placed in custody after he admitted being forced by Shafik to help Gamal and Alaa obtain the land.
Shafik's lawyer strongly denied that his client had been involved in corruption. Shafik, currently in Abu Dhabi, said "the charges levelled against me are politically motivated."
"An avalanche of accusations was directed at me after the end of the presidential elections, but this was no surprise due to the power of one party going after me," he said, referring to the Muslim Brotherhood, to which Shafik's opponent Mohamed Mursi, now Egypt's president, belongs.
Shafik's lawyer, Shawqi El-Sayed, said the complaints filed against Shafik were malicious and aimed at tarnishing his image. El-Sayed said Shafik had never been summoned for questioning and that his defence team should be informed of any charges against him.
Yehia Qadri, another of Shafik's lawyers, said that "Mubarak's two sons Gamal and Alaa bought the land from the board of the Association of the Air Pilots in 1990 and before Shafik was appointed its chairman in 1992." He said that "Shafik had just signed the purchase contract when Alaa and Gamal wanted to document it with the public notary."
Joining forces with Shafik, prominent sociologist Saadeddin Ibrahim said that "Islamist facism is out to get Shafik and all those who attacked the Muslim Brotherhood."
Closely related to the charges against Shafik are two complaints filed against Sami Anan, former military chief of staff and deputy chairman of the former ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and Mohamed El-Tohami, former chair of the Administrative Control Authority (ACA).
Lawyer Samir Sabri has charged that Anan made a huge amount of money from houses and plots of land in the upscale Golf district east of Cairo. "Anan violated the law by obtaining two plots of land in the same district, the first estimated at 600 metres and the second at around 1,000 metres," Sabri said.
President Mursi awarded Anan the Medal of the Republic when he was sent into retirement on 12 August, leading some to think that Anan would be immune to subsequent investigation.
El-Tohami is accused of using his position between 2008 and 2012 to help businessmen and cronies of the former regime to avoid investigation or trial.
In his complaint, Moetasem Fathi, a former ACA officer, said "El-Tohami declined to give the prosecution authorities documents about the corruption of former Mubarak regime officials and helped fake documents so they could avoid persecution."
Eissa said "it is natural that the wealth of Mubarak and his cronies will remain a major public issue for some time. We have a lot of statements and documents about the wealth of the former regime to look into, but it will take a while to make sure these are soundly based."
"Some of the complaints filed against former regime officials could be motivated by revenge and a desire to settle accounts. For this reason, we have high hopes that the new commission will put the inquiries on the right track," he said.
On 29 August after a year-and-a-half of inquiries, the state-affiliated Illicit Gains Authority (IGA) decided to refer Safwat El-Sherif, Mubarak's long-time minister of information and secretary-general of the former ruling National Democratic Party, for trial on charges of profiteering and securing wealth estimated at LE300 million ($50 million) by illegal means.
The IGA said El-Sherif, also former chairman of the Shura Council, the upper house of the Egyptian parliament, and his two sons Ashraf and Ihab had illegally taken possession of 56 villas, chalets and plots of land.
It said that El-Sherif had built a mosque on a plot of land he owned illegally. The report added that El-Sherif's two sons had used their father's job as minister of information to build a media empire that was able to manipulate television satellite channels.
El-Sherif is currently facing trial on charges of masterminding attacks on peaceful protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square during the revolution. He is one of several former Mubarak regime officials to be under investigation, among them Fathi Sorour, former speaker of the People's Assembly, who faces charges of manslaughter and profiteering.