Tightening the grip on Mubarak's men

Gamal Essam El-Din , Monday 7 Mar 2011

Three heavyweight officials of ousted President Hosni Mubarak face hard times ahead amid an avalanche of corruption accusations

Zakaria Azmi, Safwat El-Sherif and Fathi Sorour are three of ousted President Hosni Mubarak's loyalists who are currently living the worst of their times. Tahrir Square protesters put the names and pictures of Azmi, El-Sherif and Sorour on the top of a list whom they say should be put on trial for corruption. The office of Prosecutor-General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud indicated 2 March that all three would be summoned for questioning once an investigation of the charges against them was completed.

Zakaria Azmi, 73, is widely recognised as Mubarak's confidante. The close relationship between Azmi and Mubarak began when the latter was appointed vice president in April 1975. Azmi was a leading member of the Presidential Guard. In 1989, Azmi was appointed Mubarak's chief of staff. This was not enough for Azmi's personal ambitions. He joined the People's Assembly in 1987 and never lost his seat since.

Even when the son of Mubarak, Gamal, began overhauling Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP), Azmi was immune to any shake-ups. Azmi was even promoted to the position of NDP first assistant secretary-general. Azmi accompanied Mubarak in all of his foreign trips, including Mubarak's two visits to Germany in 2004 and 2010 for medical treatment.

Azmi was very close to Mubarak and his family. Azmi's job included preparing Mubarak's daily agenda of meetings and visits, receiving documents and messages sent to Mubarak from Egypt and all over the world. He attended most, if not all, of Mubarak's meetings with world leaders, in public and in private.

To Tahrir Square protesters, Azmi holds a wealth of information about Mubarak and the private business of his family. He was also a major behind-the-scenes player in reshuffling governments, selecting interior ministers and preparing reports for Mubarak about the performance of deputies in the People's Assembly.

Azmi married twice but never had children. His first wife was Safaa Higazi, a TV presenter, while his second and current wife is Tahani Halwa, a journalist with Al-Ahram press organisation.

A number of complaints lodged with the prosecutor-general accuse Azmi of exploiting his influential positions to secure tremendous wealth, including a number of luxurious palaces and farms. The complaints allege that Azmi owns two palaces in the high-class Mediterranean resort of Marina west of Alexandria, two palaces in east Cairo's Tagammu Khamis and the Qatamiya Golf heights, two floors in Heliopolis district and a palace in Mubarak's favorite Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh. Azmi is also accused of owning a 60-feddan farm near Aswan south of Egypt, devoted to growing grapes and whose produce is exported to France and other European countries for wine making. Azmi is also accused of illegally accumulating huge deposits in Egyptian and foreign banks.

Safwat El-Sherif, 78, is another Mubarak confidante. El-Sherif was one of the first politicians who participated in founding the NDP in 1978. When Mubarak took office in October 1981, he appointed El-Sherif as minister of Information in February 1982. El-Sherif's 22 years as minister of information also saw him used as a special envoy to several world leaders, such as Libya's Gaddafi and Saudi Arabia's King Abdallah.

As a minister of information, El-Sherif was a tool for polishing the image of Mubarak and his NDP regime. When he was appointed chairman of the Shura Council in 2004, El-Sherif's job focussed on serving Mubarak's regime in other ways. Being atop the Shura Council made El-Sherif also chairman of the Political Parties Committee and the Higher Press Council. This allowed him to disrupt opposition parties, block opposition forces from forming new legal parties, and select editors of national press organisations on the basis of loyalty to the Mubarak regime.

El-Sherif is also charged with owning large plots of land on the Cairo-Alexandria desert road, palaces in Tagammu El-Khamis, Marina and Qatamiya Heights. It is also alleged that he helped his elder son Omar gain business contracts in the media sector. Responding to the accusations, El-Sherif strongly denied that he has any plots of lands and that all his possessions and property are officially registered.

To the surprise of many, Amal Othman, a former minister of social affairs and a long-term NDP deputy in the People's Assembly, presented to the prosecutor-general last week a dossier on corruption and shady practices large enough, in her words, to send El-Sherif to trial.

Fathi Sorour, 79, is Egypt's longest serving speaker of parliament (1990 to 2011). Sorour now faces accusations of political corruption and peddling influence to serve the narrow interests of the Mubarak regime. Sorour, a member of the NDP’s political politburo under Mubarak, owns several mansions in East Cairo’s affluent district of Qatamiya Heights and in the Marina resort west of Alexandria.

Sorour also faces accusations that he exploited his influential position to appoint his son Tarek as professor of law at Cairo University. Meanwhile, a number of former parliamentary deputies, especially Gamal Zahran, a professor of political science at the Suez Canal University, charged that in his capacity as parliamentary speaker, Sorour stood against questions submitted by independent and opposition deputies on the corrupt and monopolistic practices of Ahmed Ezz, the NDP's former secretary for organisational affairs, about the former government of Ahmed Nazif offering NDP deputies huge amounts of money in return for rubber-stamping notorious laws, such as extending emergency law, helping NDP businessmen own huge plots of land and ignoring reports made by the Central Auditing Agency about corrupt practices during the period 2007 to 2009.

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