Dangerous to freedom
A ministerial decree to amend the current emergency law has been rejected outright, Mona El-Nahhas
Nakhnoukh is a name that may be on everyone's lips these days, but it was a familiar name to many even before his arrest. He was known as "The Muallim" (master) to those in his employ and as "The General" in hooligan circles, he introduced himself to the prosecutor-general's office as the owner of a private security firm and chairman of the board of directors of the Sawt Al-Dawla (Voice of the Nation) newspaper. In fact, the newspaper was more in the nature of his own mouthpiece, for he was the hidden voice of the former regime who, according to leaks from persons close to him, was the man who took charge of those difficult tasks that the regime needed done when it came to parliamentary elections and shady land deals. He was the stick that was brought down on those who refused to cooperate.
He had built up a small empire and wielded his sceptre from a villa in King Mariout gated community on the outskirts of Alexandria. He displayed his power and status in the types of animals he purchased, his evening revelries, and his personal discotheque in his villa compound. The shadier side of his life has begun to emerge during the investigations in the prosecutor-general's office in Alexandria. A general picture is taking shape and we can expect further details from the hearings of his trial, now that prosecutor-general Ibrahim El-Halbawi has arraigned him on charges of thuggery, possession of drugs and unlicensed arms, possession of devices enabling him to make international phone calls, possession of beasts of prey without a licence and facilitating prostitution. At the same time, the Alexandria Court of Appeals prosecutors office and the office of the deputy prosecutor-general in Cairo are coordinating in investigations into Nakhnoukh's relationship with the former regime and, specifically, his involvement in the violence that erupted shortly after the January Revolution began. On this aspect of "The General's" darker side, Mohamed El-Beltagui of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership described Nakhnoukh, in a television talk show, as the commander of the National Democratic Party's secret organisation which engineered parliamentary elections and organised violence.
In his deposition before the prosecution-general, Nakhnoukh was cool and systematic in his denial of the allegations. He said that he had licences for the weapons that were confiscated from his home, as well as for the lions and dogs he possessed. He stated that he had purchased the lions 13 years ago, and that he has no knowledge of the automated weapons that were mentioned in the charges. He also made it clear that he had not been present at the villa for 10 consecutive months because he had been in Lebanon on what he described as a combination of business trip and holiday from 20 December to 18 August. His lawyers explained that MB leader El-Beltagui instigated Nakhnoukh's arrest through inflammatory remarks in a television talk show. They submitted a recording of that programme on Nakhnoukh's mobile phone as proof that Muslim Brotherhood "incitement" was the sole reason for his arrest, adding that Nakhnoukh travels regularly outside the country and that when he last returned to Egypt through Cairo International Airport there were no pending cases that would have caused him to be detained at the airport.
The lawyers argued that the case being brought against Nakhnoukh was no more than a vendetta being waged by the Muslim Brotherhood in revenge for his having been a supporter of the former regime. They maintain that no specific names were mentioned in connection with the allegations in this regard and that the same applied with regard to the charge of "facilitating prostitution" in artistic circles.
Although hashish was found and served as the basis of the allegation of drug dealing, Nakhnoukh claims that they were solely for his personal consumption. "There is no evidence whatsoever that I ever was involved in drug trafficking," he said. With regard to the other vice charge, he said, "I know only one of the women that were mentioned and she is the wife of my assistant. I do not know any of the other girls. They came to the villa because they know that I have good relations with performers and producers and they hoped I would introduce them to someone who would help them in their acting careers." Although there had been women in his villa on the evening before his arrest, he claims that he had been asleep at the time and that he had never seen them before the morning of the day he was arrested. The 46-year-old Sabri Nakhnoukh is unmarried, but says that he had just become engaged during his last visit to Lebanon. Among the papers the prosecutor-general's office found in his home were a weapon's licence issued in his name from Lebanon and a letter stating that he worked as a media advisor to the embassy of Uzbekistan in Egypt.
During the first hearing in Alexandria, the alleged thug baron claimed that the reason for his arrest was his disputes with the current heads of the Ministry of Interior. When asked about the nature of these disputes, he said that he had cooperated with the former regime which availed itself of his services during parliamentary elections.
During the second hearing, Nakhnoukh was accused of having met with the former minister of interior in 2005, just before the parliamentary elections were held that year. In that meeting, Nakhnoukh was allegedly asked to organise thugs to man the polling stations in order to keep out NDP voters. He was also accused of being involved in vote purchasing and in pro-regime violence following the revolution. Nakhnoukh denied his relationship with the former regime and any of its chief figures, contrary to the purported "leaks" to the press.
CONFISCATED ITEMS: Among the prosecution-general hearings with Nakhnoukh, two sessions were held in the prosecutor-general's department in the Alexandrian area of Al-Amiriya. These sessions focussed on items that were in his possession and persons in his company at the time of his arrest. One item was a Glock handgun licensed to the owner from Dokki police station in Egypt. In his company were 12 persons, listed as dangerous and having a criminal record. Four women were also there.
As for the items the officers seized from inside the villa, they included a 39 calibre rifle, seven safes, bullets, three holsters, a rifle "suspected to be an antique", four electric shock batons, a bulletproof vest, four large knives and three Motorola walkie-talkies. In addition, there was hashish; LE56,995, $3,060, and 4,000 Lebanese lira; 16 mobile phones, six wrist watches of various makes and a pair of night-vision goggles; and finally three bottles of alcohol and some gold jewellery.
Outside the villa, the prosecution noted five cars, five lions in locked iron cages, six predatory dogs, four horses, an ostrich and various domesticated animals.
More details should be forthcoming in the coming days, as the investigation continues in this case which has riveted public attention in Egypt due to the accused's shady connections with the former regime and his alleged involvement in electoral rigging and organised violence against demonstrators.