Catching the big fish
The Illicit Gains Authority has stepped up its investigations into the wealth of key figures from the former Mubarak regime, reports Gamal Essam El-Din
The government of Prime Minister Hisham Kandil is mobilising in its multi-front war against key figures from the regime of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak, deciding that the Illicit Gains Authority (IGA) is to become its main weapon in this war.
On Sunday night, judge Yehia Galal, chair of the IGA, which is affiliated to the Ministry of Justice, ordered the arrest of former People's Assembly speaker Fathi Sorour after he failed to show up for questioning.
Sorour was released from prison on 12 October after being jailed for a year and half pending trial on charges of manslaughter following accusations of having a hand in orchestrating attacks against pro-democracy protesters at the height of last year's revolution in what has become known as the "Battle of the Camel".
Together with other stalwarts of Mubarak's defunct ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), Sorour was acquitted on 10 October of charges of inciting thugs to kill the protesters.
Sorour and his family now face charges of accumulating wealth in the form of a number of palaces, villas, plots of land and huge banking assets. Sorour has pleaded not guilty to the charges, saying that his long career as speaker of the Egyptian parliament (for 20 years) and of international, African and Arab parliaments enabled him to gain his wealth from legal sources.
Sorour was the last of a number of key NDP figures to have been questioned on corruption charges in recent days. On 9 October, Ahli Sporting Club Chairman Hassan Hamdi was released on LE2 million bail after being questioned by the IGA on charges of illegally accumulating a vast fortune.
IGA officials said that while he was chairman of the Al-Ahram Establishment's advertising agency, Hamdi had accumulated vast wealth illegally, and he has been charged with exploiting his position to buy large plots of land throughout Egypt in an illegal way.
The officials said that Hamdi had failed to explain how he had accumulated around LE500 million ($82 million) during his years as chair of Al-Ahram's advertising agency. The IGA decided to freeze Hamdi's assets pending investigation.
Hamdi has recently been the subject of fierce criticism from hardcore football supporters, or "Ultras", who have demanded his resignation from his post as chair of the Ahli Sporting Club, which he has held for the last 10 years.
The supporters have chanted slogans calling Hamdi a diehard of the former Mubarak regime and saying that not enough has been done to force the authorities to open a serious investigation into last February's Port Said massacre, which left more than 70 Ahli fans dead.
IGA officials have also decided to put Ibrahim Nafie, former chairman of the board of Al-Ahram, on Cairo airport's watch list. The officials said that they had summoned Nafie to face questioning on his wealth several times, but that he had not showed up.
Nafie faces charges of having illegally accumulated assets worth some LE1 billion ($164 million) in the form of beachfront palaces in Alexandria and Sharm El-Sheikh, as well as thousands of square metres of land on the Cairo-Alexandria desert road at below market prices.
"Nafie paid LE20 per square metre for the land and sold it at LE2,500," said IGA officials.
Nafie, board chairman of Al-Ahram from 1978 to 2005, was a well-known supporter of the Mubarak regime, and he was made a member of the upper house of the Egyptian parliament, the Shura Council, for 15 years, enabling him to be elected chair of the Press Syndicate several times.
Nafie, who left Egypt after the outbreak of the 25 January Revolution, admitted that his monthly salary as chairman of the board and editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram, had stood at LE1.3 million "the official salary at that time".
The IGA has recently disclosed that it has received 597 reports since January 2011, including 45 related to key figures of the former Mubarak regime.
Assem Al-Gohari, former chair of the IGA, said that out of the 597 cases, 195 had been shelved because they were based on false information, while 29 were referred by the courts. Some 359 cases are still awaiting investigation.
Al-Gohari said that six important officials from the former regime had been referred for trial, among them former secretary-general of Mubarak's NDP Safwat Al-Sherif and Mubarak's former chief of staff Zakaria Azmi.
Al-Sherif was sent for trial last month after IGA officials said they had collected documentation about his family's immense wealth, estimated at some LE29 billion ($4.8 billion).
According to these documents, the wealth of Al-Sherif and his wife and family of two sons and one daughter includes six palaces, eight villas, 15 apartments, large plots of land, 17 advertising and movie production companies and huge bank accounts.
The documents also showed that Al-Sherif owned a large apartment in Paris. His two sons Ashraf and Ihab face similar charges relating to the abuse of their father's position as minister of information for over 23 years and illegal profiteering.
Zakaria Azmi was sentenced to seven years in jail last May and fined LE36.5 million after being found guilty of securing illicit gains of some LE44 million. He had been accused of illegally obtaining LE2 million from Al-Ahram in the form of "expensive souvenirs" in return for peddling influence to keep Nafie in office.
The IGA officials also decided to refer Mubarak's long-serving minister of culture, Farouk Hosni, for trial next November on charges of accumulating illegal wealth of LE10 million.
Also next November, Sami Mahran, former secretary-general of the People's Assembly, will be referred for trial on charges of securing illicit gains estimated at LE22 million.
IGA officials said that Mahran, right-hand man of former parliamentary speaker Sorour, abused his position to secure assets in the form of palaces in resorts at 6 October City, Sheikh Zayed City, New Cairo and on the Mediterranean Coast, along with liquid banking assets.
Mahran has been asked to repay LE44 million, representing the value of assets collected in an illegal way. He was forced to resign on 2 October after serving as secretary-general of the People's Assembly since 1985.
IGA officials also indicated this week that they had decided to reopen the file on the Mubarak family's wealth, saying that a new investigation had shown that Mubarak's two sons Alaa and Gamal owned seven flats in Cairo in the upscale district of Kattamiya Heights and other areas.
They said that Mubarak also had a villa in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh and a flat in the Mediterranean coastal city of Marsa Matrouh.
The efforts of the IGA indicate that it is under increasing pressure from public opinion to act against figures from the former regime.
Hossam Eissa, a professor of law and economics at Cairo University, told Al-Ahram Weekly that "the judicial authorities, especially the IGA, face accusations that they are moving at a snail's pace and that they have not achieved tangible results in catching the big fish of Mubarak's regime or recovering their stolen wealth, either of those who have fled the country or those who were not able to do so."
Eissa added that "most of the reports collected on the wealth of the former regime's key figures were based on false information and most of the supervisory agencies do not have accurate information about their wealth."
"If IGA officials choose to refer Mubarak's former officials for trial without solid information on their wealth, they should expect that these diehards will be acquitted of the charges," Eissa said, warning that "this could anger the public and put the judicial authorities and the government on edge."
Meanwhile, the Cairo Criminal Court decided on 13 October to postpone the trial of Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak's last prime minister and one of last June's presidential candidates, on charges of abuse of power and illegal profiteering to 18 November.
Shafik, who narrowly lost the presidential elections to Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, is accused of helping Mubarak's sons to obtain 40,000 square metres of land near Ismailia at very cheap prices.
When the trial opened on Saturday, judges asked the sons to give up the land. Farid Al-Deeb, lawyer to Mubarak's family, said the request of the judges was a positive step that would lead to their being acquitted of the charges.
Al-Deeb said the accusations being levelled against Shafik and the two sons of Mubarak were shaky. "It is a matter for regret that these accusations are politically motivated and that the investigative judge was not just," said Al-Deeb.
On Sunday, Shafik, currently living in the United Arab Emirates with his family, opted to attack president Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood group from which he comes.
Shafik exploited the bloody clashes that had taken place between young people from secularist movements and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to launch a scathing attack on Morsi, accusing him of serving his group and turning Egypt into a "new dictatorship".
"Egyptians have become fed up with the attempts of one group to settle its accounts with its political adversaries and force its militias into the streets to terrorise and intimidate forces opposing its dictatorial regime," he said.
Shafik railed at Morsi's failed attempt to dismiss Prosecutor-General Mahmoud Abdel-Meguid, arguing that "this reflects growing dictatorial trends and is a sign that the elected president has backtracked on his promise to keep a balance among the state authorities."
Investigative judge Osama Al-Sidi said this week that he was opening an inquiry into new reports that Shafik, in his capacity as chair of the Association of Air Pilots in the early 1990s, helped his two daughters and Mubarak's two sons to acquire a number of chalets and villas on the north coast resort in violation of legal rules and at cheap prices.
Shafik was referred on 30 September for a further trial, along with 10 other senior civil aviation officials, on charges of misappropriating $7 million in funds from Egypt's national carrier EgyptAir and forcing several state institutions to donate millions of pounds to Mubarak's wife Suzanne to build a garden south of Cairo.
On another front, the government has concluded deals with various European countries with the aim of recovering money smuggled out of Egypt. On Sunday, Egypt and Switzerland agreed that new steps should be taken to speed up the recovery of money smuggled out by Mubarak's family and former senior officials and placed in Swiss banks.
These funds are estimated at some 450 million Swiss francs ($485 million).