Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
23 - 29 December 1999
Issue No. 461
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

 
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Businesswoman faces extradition

By Gamal Essam El-Din

Following a six-month intensive search, the French chapter of Interpol arrested Aleyya El-Ayyouti in Paris last week. The 51-year-old banker, who was vice-president of the Nile Bank, had fled the country in June to dodge trial in what has come to be dubbed by the Arabic-language press as the "loan deputies" case.

A French court of appeals ordered that El-Ayyouti be remanded in custody pending the arrival from Cairo via diplomatic channels of a dossier containing information on the case against her. This dossier should include a detailed list of the charges levelled against El-Ayyouti, the name of the judge and the court before which she will stand trial, identification documents and fingerprints. According to official sources, the dossier is expected to be sent to Paris shortly. The French court of appeals will decide on 29 December whether El-Ayyouti should be extradited. There have been reports that a large number of Egyptian and French lawyers will join forces to oppose the move.

Following the arrest, a preliminary dossier on El-Ayyouti's case was quickly sent to the French chapter of Interpol, which was meant to assure them that El-Ayyouti will stand trial before a civil court.

El-Ayyouti was placed by Prosecutor-General Maher Abdel-Wahed on "the arrivals wanted list" after her disappearance became public knowledge. At the time, her lawyer surprised the court hearing the case by announcing that she had travelled abroad under the authority of a written permit provided by Abdel-Wahed's predecessor, Ragaa El-Arabi. El-Ayyouti managed to receive a 15-day travel permit from El-Arabi for allegedly receiving medical treatment and fled the country on 19 June. The permit, which was issued secretly, expired on 4 July, but El-Ayyouti never returned.

El-Ayyouti's escape came at a decisive stage in the "loan deputies" case. Following court hearings that dragged on for a year and a half, prosecution authorities pressed additional charges. El-Ayyouti was accused of using her position as vice-president of the Nile Bank to provide three businessmen with loans amounting to LE214 million without notifying the bank's board of directors or listing the loans in the bank's books.

In a tactic to prolong hearings while a search for a loophole continues, El-Ayyouti presented the court of appeals with a request for the disqualification of chief investigating magistrate Mohsen Sobhi. The request was turned down.

El-Ayyouti's arrest was the last in a string of dramatic developments in the saga of the "loan deputies" that first unfolded in the summer of 1995. A trial began in January 1997 and lasted for over two years, with 32 suspects facing charges ranging from misappropriation of public funds and profiteering to facilitating the illegal acquisition by others of public funds. The defendants include four MPs, 19 businessmen and eight bankers. Fifteen were taken into custody and three others disappeared. The latter, in addition to El-Ayyouti, are Hossam El-Manawi and Ashraf Labib. One defendant died last year.

Meanwhile, a state security court resumed hearings on Saturday. The court listened to the testimony of Fahmi Abdel-Latif, chairman of the Administrative Control Authority (ACA) and a witness for the prosecution. Abdel-Latif, who also acts as ACA's supervisor on banking transactions, said El-Ayyouti, taking advantage of her position, gave her husband, Mahmoud Azzam, a private contractor and MP, a collateral of downtown land assets for the purpose of selling it to Mobil Oil Company for LE10 million. "This collateral was given in secret and in violation of banking regulations, to enable Azzam to repay part of his debts to the Commercial Bank of Daqahliya (CBD)," Abdel-Latif said. He also said that none of the main defendants, including the four MPs, paid back the debts which they had illegally obtained from banks. "The total of these debts amounts to LE674 million," he said.

The arrest of El-Ayyouti triggered speculation in business circles about future scenarios. But there is a general agreement that El-Ayyouti's repatriation will unravel many of the mysteries shrouding the case. "The testimony of El-Ayyouti, who is the chief defendant in the case, may either complicate the case and prolong hearings or bring them to a speedy end. El-Ayyouti is the principal figure around whom all the defendants revolve," said a legal source, who asked not to be named.

El-Ayyouti's repatriation may also revive the controversy about the travel permit granted her by El-Arabi, who was forced into retirement at the beginning of July.

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