Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Egypt Prosecutor Sharpens Case Against Mubarak



The New York Times

February 28, 2011

Egypt Prosecutor Sharpens Case Against Mubarak


CAIRO — Egypt’s public prosecutor on Monday froze the domestic assets of former President Hosni Mubarak and his immediate family and barred them from leaving the country, answering the public clamor that the deposed first family account for suspected ill-gotten gains.

The prosecutor’s moves coincided with newspaper accounts suggesting that Mr. Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne, and their two sons, Ala’a and Gamal, held accounts worth millions of dollars in the government-owned Al Ahly bank, in suburban Heliopolis near the presidential palace.

The asset freeze and the travel restrictions represented a considerable escalation of government actions against the former president, who was ousted on Feb. 11 after weeks of public protest. The Foreign Ministry requested last week that all countries freeze the assets of Mr. Mubarak and his relatives, estimated in the millions or even billions of dollars. No countries had reported acting yet, said a government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the subject.

“The allegations are against Mr. Mubarak and his family,” said Adel el-Said, the spokesman for the public prosecutor, saying that details of the investigation into the wealth of the president himself are confidential. “We have received previous accusations regarding the extravagant wealth of Mr. Mubarak and his family — in the beginning they were all about money abroad. More recently we received reports about money domestically.”

The prosecutor’s spokesman said the money reported in the accounts was not necessarily taken illegally, but the matter was under investigation. The freeze order was issued via the Central Bank of Egypt to hunt for assets in all Egyptian banks, he said.

On Sunday, an Egyptian tabloid, Al Osboa, Arabic for The Weekly, went to the public prosecutor with evidence that the former president and his family maintained a series of secret bank accounts, with roughly $3.5 million in an account registered to his wife, Suzanne, and $16 million belonging to each of his two sons, said Mahmoud Bakry, the newspaper’s executive editor.

Mr. Bakry — who runs the newspaper with his brother Moustafa, an outspoken Mubarak critic and former Parliament member — said that security procedures hid the accounts from most bank employees, and that Mrs. Mubarak used her maiden name, Suzanne Thabet. Traditionally, Arab women do not take the husband’s name. Ala’a Mubarak’s account was in the name of Ala’a el-Sayyid, using one of his middle names.

Mr. Bakry also claimed that Mrs. Mubarak controlled an account that contained $147 million in assets of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, a reconstruction of Cleopatra’s famous library on the beachfront. Mr. Bakry’s brother had prompted the investigation by giving the evidence to the prosecutor, he said.

The prosecutor’s office and judicial experts pointed out that it was possible that the money was legal — both Mr. Mubarak’s sons are businessmen. But the sums under Mrs. Mubarak’s control raised more questions because public officials, even the president, earn modest amounts.

The banner headlines about the investigation, unthinkable just weeks ago, underscored the upheaval taking place in Egypt. “Secret Mubarak Family Accounts in Egyptian Banks” screamed a red headline across the front page of Al-Ahram, which for the past 30 years published fawning reports about Mr. Mubarak in the same spot almost daily.

It based its report on the information from Al Osboa, which splashed pictures across its front page of what it said were the bank statements from the accounts. The name Gamal Mubarak is clearly visible on one statement that appears to show a balance of more than 41 million Egyptian pounds, or nearly $7 million, and the paper said there were other accounts.

Also on Monday, security officials confirmed that a small fire broke out in the offices of the public finance investigations department in the Mugamma, the Stalinist structure on Tahrir Square where many government offices are located.

The content of the newspaper reports was electric given the widespread conviction among Egyptians that the Mubarak family spent decades siphoning funds from the public trough.

“I didn’t think it would happen in my lifetime,” said Ghada Shabander, an Egyptian rights activist. “I was hoping it would happen in my children’s lifetime.”

Ms. Shabander said she hoped the announcement signaled that the interim government was intent on serious investigations.

“I see a turning point,” she said. “There has been a lot of stalling and there continues to be a lot of stalling when it comes to taking serious measures against the Mubarak regime on two main issues: crimes against humanity and corruption.”

According to the prosecutor’s office, the new order means that Mr. Mubarak, his wife, their sons and the sons’ families cannot transfer assets or property — whether money, stocks or bonds, or holdings in banks and companies. The office of the prosecutor, Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, also said those people could not leave Egypt until the investigation concluded.

The president and his family have not appeared in public nor made any statements since he was deposed. Two officials who had been close to Mr. Mubarak declined to comment, saying the matter was too sensitive and they did not know enough.

Mr. Mubarak, 82, is believed to be in Sharm el Sheik, the Red Sea resort where he spent much of his time in recent years. But the military has kept the precise location of the Mubaraks a closely guarded secret.

Those who helped organize the protests said that such an investigation had been delayed for too long, but was a first step toward making politicians accountable and ending the widespread idea that the dignity of the office gave the president immunity.

“The problem is that we don’t understand what a president is,” said Ziad el-Elaimy, one of the youth organizers of the Egyptian revolution and a lawyer. “A president is an employee and if this employee errs, then he is to be held accountable. There is no shame in that.”

Sharon Otterman contributed reporting.

© 2011 The New York Times Company

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


No comments: