Mubarak Cronies Find Comfort in Exile

  • by Cam McGrath (cairo)
  • Inter Press Service

Under Mubarak, top officials and businessmen with close ties to the regime seized public assets and acquired monopolies in strategic commodities. Prosecutors say the elite group grew rich on the spoils of crony capitalism, including sweetheart privatisation deals, stock market manipulation and preferential treatment in land contracts.

Following the uprising that ended Mubarak’s 30-year rule, Egyptian prosecutors imposed travel bans and froze the assets of regime leaders and business associates. Foreign ministry officials also contacted world governments to request that they identify and freeze assets belonging to individuals suspected of corruption.

Yet hundreds of senior Mubarak regime figures remain at large, many living comfortably in exile on ill- gotten gains, claim activists. Some accused of graft and malfeasance have yet to be charged, while others have international warrants for their arrest.

One former official accused of engineering some of the most chequered privatisations in Egypt’s history holds a top position at a prestigious international financial institution.

'Mubarak’s associates aren’t exactly in hiding,' says Amir Marghany, a corporate lawyer and anti- corruption expert. 'We know where many of them live, work and spend their time. But it seems nobody is really trying to catch them.'

In January, Egyptians were infuriated to learn that Youssef Boutros-Ghali, Mubarak’s former finance minister, had been spotted attending a public forum at the London School of Economics (LSE). The university’s security staff escorted the fugitive official out of the lecture hall after an Egyptian activist in the audience called him out publicly.

Boutros-Ghali, seen by many as the public face of a regime that enriched itself at the expense of the poor, fled to Britain shortly after Mubarak was toppled. A Cairo court sentenced him in absentia to 30 years imprisonment for abuse of power and squandering public funds. His name is on an Interpol watch list.

'We know he is living in London, but until now nobody has lifted a finger against him,' says Marghany.

He says local and international media coverage has created the impression that there is a worldwide manhunt for Mubarak’s cronies and a global freeze on their assets. In reality, only a handful of countries have ordered assets frozen, and the mandate is limited to Mubarak’s family and inner circle.

Analysts question the resolve of Egyptian authorities. Prosecutors have targeted the coterie of Gamal Mubarak, the former president’s son and presumed successor, while passing over officials and businessmen with strong links to the ruling military council.

'The old regime is still running the show, and it appears they have financial interests in the people charged (with corruption) and is not enthusiastic about prosecuting them or retrieving their stolen money,' says Amr Adly, head of the Economic and Social Justice Unit at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

While a number of former regime leaders have been brought to trial, including Mubarak and his two sons, court rulings are continually and inexplicably delayed. Moreover, certain individuals appear to have escaped scrutiny.

Egypt’s prosecutor-general has shown uncanny deference to Mahmoud Mohieldin, who served as Mubarak’s investment minister between 2004 and 2010. Corruption watchdogs charge that Mohieldin abused his position as head of the country’s unpopular privatisation programme to manipulate the valuation of public assets, which were sold to foreign investors at a fraction of their value.

Mohieldin has lived in the United States since his appointment as managing director of the World Bank in October 2010. Despite numerous allegations of financial misconduct, no charges have been laid against him.

'Egyptians are surprised that he is still holding this post,' says Amr Hassanein, chairman of MERIS, a regional affiliate of Moody's credit ratings agency. 'There have been corruption scandals around the (privatisation) transactions, but not him personally. The perception is that the World Bank is protecting him, but it may have more to do with Egypt’s side.'

Mubarak’s cronies have maintained a low profile in exile, obtaining residency papers and carrying on business activities — in some cases using illicit funds syphoned from Egypt.

Legal experts say foreign governments might be reluctant to act against former Mubarak regime members and their assets until they are satisfied that all corruption allegations are substantiated and those accused are assured due process. Others appear to have political motives for sheltering them.

Egyptian authorities have requested that Qatar hand over Rachid Mohamed Rachid, Mubarak’s former trade minister. Rachid was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison last June, and another 15 years in September, for squandering public funds and profiteering. Interpol has issued a warrant for his arrest.

Sources close to Rachid say he fled to the Arab Gulf during the uprising, staying in Dubai for several months before settling in Qatar.

In a breakthrough, on Mar. 2 a Spanish court ordered long-time Mubarak confidant Hussein Salem and his son extradited to Egypt.

Spanish authorities arrested the fugitive business tycoon, widely seen as a front man for Mubarak, in June 2011 at his mansion in Majorca on multiple charges of corruption and laundering involving illicit funds transferred from Cairo. They also froze his 47-million-dollar bank account and seized homes worth over 14 million dollars, including seven villas in the Andalusian resort town of Marbella.

Salem, who holds Egyptian and Spanish passports, is alleged to have used his connections with Mubarak to secure lucrative property and business deals, including a heavily criticised contract to export underpriced Egyptian gas to Israel. He fled Egypt days before Mubarak’s ouster and was on an Interpol watch list until his capture.

A Cairo criminal court sentenced Salem and two of his children in absentia to seven years in prison on charges of profiteering and laundering over 2 billion dollars in gas exports. Salem was also sentenced in a separate case to 15 years in prison for illegally acquiring public property. Yet despite the extradition order, he remains in Spanish custody.

'People are getting frustrated with the delays and excuses,' says Marghany. 'The Spanish court ordered Salem extradited nearly a month ago. So where is he?'

© Inter Press Service (2012) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service