Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1241, (9-15 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Mubarak’s divisive trial

The retrials of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak and his two sons opened this week amid an atmosphere of increasing polarisation, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

Another chapter in the four-year complex and tortuous trial of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak opened this month.

 Mubarak and his two sons Alaa and Gamal appeared in court on 4 April to face retrial on charges of alleged embezzlement. They are accused of diverting LE125 million of public funds earmarked to renovating presidential palaces to upgrade personal property. After the retrial opened, judge Hassan Hassanein decided to postpone it to 29 April.

Earlier on 2 April, the Court of Cassation, the highest judicial authority in Egypt, also held a hearing after which it decided to postpone a final say over whether to drop profiteering and manslaughter charges against Mubarak to 7 May.

According to lawyer and former independent MP Shawki Al-Sayed, “2015 will be decisive for Mubarak and his family. The Court of Cassation is set to decide whether what has come to be billed as ‘the trial of the century’ will continue for a third, and final, chapter or whether it will come to a close.”

He added that “Mubarak has faced two trials since 2011 over charges of complicity in the murder of peaceful pro-democracy protesters opposed to his rule, abuse of power for personal gain, and profiteering by aiding businessman Hussein Salem in monopolising gas sales to Israel and dominating tourist investment projects in South Sinai.”

On 4 April, Mubarak, 87, arrived at Cairo’s Central Criminal Court at 10am, wearing a “presidential blue suit” and dark glasses and looking in good health, even exchanging smiles with his two sons and lawyer Farid Al-Deeb. This was completely different from earlier trials when he was taken to the courtroom on a bed, looking grim and forced to wear a white uniform when in custody.

Al-Sayed said that “the last four months were exceptionally happy for Mubarak and his family, and this has clearly positively reflected on his health and morale. He was acquitted twice of charges of corruption and now has high hopes that the Court of Cassation will uphold the rulings, not sending him to a third trial and finally acquitting him of the charges against him.”

However, Mubarak’s smile quickly vanished when prosecutors asked for the maximum punishment against him. In reading the list of corruption charges against the former president, chairman of the Public Funds Prosecution Office Ahmed Hussein accused Mubarak and his two sons of embezzling public funds.

“In an abuse of his sweeping powers as president of Egypt, Mubarak forced the Housing Ministry to spend as much as LE125 million on renovating a number of his private and personal properties. This amount was originally part of budgetary allocations that were earmarked to the Housing Ministry to upgrade the presidential palaces by providing them with modern communications and media facilities,” Hussein said.

 “Mubarak pressured the Housing Ministry between 2005 and 2011 to divert these budgetary allocations to upgrading and decorating a number of private villas he owns in Heliopolis, Qattamiya Heights, Sharm El-Sheikh and Marina and the offices of his two sons Gamal and Alaa in Heliopolis,” Hussein said.

He said that “this is a high-profile corruption case, and we see here that not only did Mubarak spend public money on personal interests, but he also gave orders that part of these funds be used to build villas for his business associate Hussein Salem and for leading officials of the now-defunct former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).”

Hussein said two technical committees had been formed by the Central Auditing Agency (CAA) and Ain Shams University’s Faculty of Engineering and that “Mubarak was involved up to his neck in corruption practices that came at the expense of the prosperity of millions of Egyptians. The current charges against him are just one example of these practices.”

Mubarak and his two sons denied the accusations. Al-Deeb said the charges levelled against Mubarak and his two sons were fabricated, and the court allowed him to summon Abul-Wafa Rashwan, Mubarak’s former private secretary, to testify on his behalf.

Rashwan said that he was Mubarak’s second secretary and that the renovation work at the presidential palaces had been the responsibility of the security and intelligence agencies. “Some of the villas owned by former president Mubarak were renovated not to serve him in person or the private interests of his family, but rather to accommodate his private security and presidential guard,” Rashwan said.

He added that he had had no idea that Mubarak’s two sons had ever spent public money on their villas. “Mubarak just ordered two villas in Sharm El-Sheikh to be renovated to help accommodate 15 personal guards in charge of securing his person,” Rashwan said.

Last May, Mubarak, his two sons, and four other defendants were convicted of embezzling LE125 million ($17.9 million) originally allocated for developing communication centres affiliated with the presidential palaces. The money, the court said, had been spent on the men’s private residencies instead.

Mubarak was given a three-year prison sentence and his sons were given four years each. They were also ordered to pay a fine of LE21.19 million and return LE125 million to the state.

However, in January the Court of Cassation overturned the verdict and ordered a retrial. Alaa and Gamal were also released after serving the maximum period of detention pending trial. They still face charges of profiteering from shady stock exchange practices in a separate case.

Al-Sayed said that “the case is not a big headache for Mubarak. I do not see a lot of evidence against Mubarak in the case, and even if he were to be found guilty he could still pay the LE125 million and be freed.” 

He believes that the real “trial of the century”, the case in which Mubarak faces profiteering and manslaughter charges, is the one with the greatest risks not only for the Mubarak family but also for Egypt as a whole.

“This case has become highly politicised, with some fearing a possible acquittal of Mubarak next May could unleash a wave of violence and pose threats to a country that is desperately seeking stability,” Al-Sayed said.

Hassan Abu Taleb, an Al-Ahram political analyst, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “Mubarak’s ‘trial of the century’ has greatly polarised a country already fractured by bitter political divisions.”

“You have those who will see a possible final acquittal of Mubarak next month as a result of a corrupt judiciary and a strong signal of the quick return to his authoritarian practices,” Abu Taleb said, adding that “there are also those who will accuse critics of Mubarak’s trial of being loyal to foreign agendas.”

In November, Cairo’s Central Criminal Court dropped charges against Mubarak over his alleged complicity in the murder of protesters during the 2011 uprising. In the same case, former interior minister Habib Al-Adli and six aides were acquitted of murder and attempted murder related to the killing of protesters.

The court’s decision triggered angry responses in political circles, but few protests on the streets. Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat reacted within hours of the ruling by filing an appeal with the Court of Cassation, citing legal flaws in the judgment.

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