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Battling graft

The head of the Egyptian Tax Authority has been arrested in a corruption probe, Ahmed Morsy reports

Ahmed Morsy , Wednesday 8 Jan 2020
Battling graft
Battling graft
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Egypt’s Administrative Control Authority (ACA) on Friday announced the arrest of Abdel-Azim Hussein, the head of the Egyptian Tax Authority (ETA).

In a more detailed statement issued on Sunday the ACA said it had acted on information that Hussein had interfered with the work of his subordinates to reduce the tax bills of substantial tax payers. 

“This was done in exchange for financial and other bribes, in a way that cost millions of pounds of public money,” said the ACA.

After presenting the information it had received to the prosecutor-general, permission was granted to investigate the violations, said the statement.

“Several meetings between the involved parties were recorded, in public and private locations, in one of which Hussein was caught receiving bribes from chartered accountants,” said the ACA.

Confronted with the ACA’s evidence during the Supreme State Security Prosecution’s investigation, the defendants pleaded guilty and were detained pending investigations.

The ACA has called on individuals, companies and chartered accountants that deal with the ETA to provide accurate data on tax returns in order to ensure that the correct amount of tax is paid.

Tax receipts form the government’s largest revenue source, equal to 14 per cent of GDP last year.

Egypt’s Finance Minister Mohamed Maait on Sunday named deputy ETA chief Reda Abdel-Kader as the temporary head of the authority.

Maait stressed that “no one is above the law and there can be no covering up of corruption.”

Hussein is not the first high ranking official to be arrested for corruption. In 2018 the head of the Customs Authority was arrested on charges of financial misconduct. In 2016 Egypt’s former minister of agriculture was sentenced to 10 years in prison for taking bribes in return for granting land licences.

The detention of the ETA head comes within the framework of the second phase (2019-2022) of Egypt’s national anti-corruption strategy which is being supervised by the ACA.

Last year saw the arrest of a number of officials on corruption charges. During the first seven months of 2019 the ACA brought over 400 corruption-related cases and has taken legal action against more than 1,400 employees, recovering LE2.4 billion for the state’s coffers.

ACA head Sherif Seifeddin says the ongoing campaign is part of a government push to curb corruption, remove obstacles to development and improve the quality of life for citizens.

In 2018, Egypt’s ranking rose from 117 to 105 in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) issued annually by Berlin-based Transparency International.

Emmanuel Ollita Ondongo, president of the Association of African Anti-Corruption Authorities, told Al-Ahram Weekly in a recent interview that “Egypt is becoming the focal point of the fight against corruption in Africa.”

“It has the oldest anti-corruption institution in Africa with over 55 years of experience.”

ACA, Egypt’s corruption watchdog, was established in 1964. It has investigative powers, and is responsible for detecting and fighting graft.

“Egypt offers capacity-building grants to African anti-corruption institutions,” said Ondongo, and provides logistic support to African states to combat corruption.

Last year Egypt made 250 training grants available at the ACA’s National Anti-Corruption Academy to African cadres.

During June’s National Youth Conference, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi called for the transformation of Egypt into a digital economy within four years. Electronic payment for government services will make it easier to trace corruption.

 

 

*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

 

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