Egyptian lawyer drops Palm Hills and Saudi Kingdom cases, voices dissatisfaction with 'revolution' govt

Salma El-Wardani , Monday 27 Jun 2011

Feeling betrayed and dissatisfied with the current government's policy towards cases of illegal state land acquisition, leading lawyer and activist Hamdy El-Fakharani drops his drawn-out battle against PHD and Kingdom Holding

Palm Hills

A leading Egyptian lawyer that has been struggling for two years to overturn state land sales to Palm Hills Developments (PHD) and Saudi firm Kingdom Holding has decided to withdraw the claims after his drawn-out disappointment with Essam Sharaf's "revolution" government.

"I have been battling for two eras and nothing has changed," Hamdy El-Fakharany told Ahram Online. "Sharaf's government has appealed in a case proven to be corrupt, so if the people remain silent about that just because it has named itself the government of the revolution, then I will keep silent too. I wont keep battling alone for the rest of my life."

Last September, lawyer and construction company owner El-Fakharany filed a lawsuit against Palm Hills Development's (PHD) land acquisition, in which 960,000 square metres of land were assigned by direct order to the company, at the State Council’s Administrative Court, calling for the annulment of land sales to the PHD project in New Cairo. He also filed a case against Saudi Arabia's Kingdom Agricultural Development's land acquisition. Both cases allegedly violate the law regulating tenders and auctions.

Though the Egyptian court ruled in April that a state land sale to Palm Hills -- founded in 2005 by Mansour and Maghraby Investment and Development and Egypt's second largest listed developer with the largest land banks in the country -- was illegal and scrapped the contract. On Thursday, however, the new urban communities' authorities appealed against the court's verdict.

"If the parties involved in PHD are all in jail now, and the court itself ruled that the sale of the land was illegal, then if the government of Sharaf still wants to defend it, it can never claim that it reflects the interests of the people," El-Fakharany said. He added that the people should revolt and ask why the current government, which he dubs the "Nazif government but with a new look," keeps defending cases proven to be corrupt.

El-Fakharany followed his battle against PHD by another case in which he accused the Saudi prince Al Walid Bin Talal, the owner of Kingdom Agricultural Development, of being allocated 100 thousand feddans in Toshka, south of Egypt, by the Egyptian government, for which he only paid LE2 million ($0.34 million) in the late 1990s. The land is valued at more than double the paid-in price, at LE 5 million ($0.86 million).

Accordingly, the government reached a deal with the Saudi prince in which Kingdom Holdings will give up 75 per cent of the 100,000 feddans (420 million square metres) of land Bin Talal owns in Toshka. The Saudi prince will retain ownership of 10,000 feddans. He will keep another 15,000 feddans according to a concession system, provided that his company adheres to an agreed-upon timeline to cultivate the land.

But for El-Fakharany that was very much below expectations, especially considering the "revolutionary situation."

"Mubarak gave Bin Talal the land for practically nothing -- LE 50 for a feddan," he said, "Now Essam Sharaf, after more than 15 years, has decided that the fair price for the feddan is LE 200, not to mention the free irrigation water Bin Talal is given, while many Egyptian farmers are denied [this privilege]"

Some analysts say the decision may have political implications. A $4 billion aid package Saudi Arabia pledged to Egypt in May will include a $1 billion deposit at the Central Bank of Egypt and $500 billion in bond purchases, designed to support the country's cash-strapped economy in the wake of the upheaval that ousted president Hosni Mubarak on 11 February.

"If the government cares more about its interests with Saudi Arabia or any other country than about the Egyptian people, then it is a corrupt government and an extension of the old regime, " El-Fakharany concluded.

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