Egypt settles legal disputes with foreign firms

Reuters, Tuesday 1 Nov 2011

Government agrees to new standards to resolve investment disputes in a development that may boost the confidence of unsettled investors

Palm Hills hoarding
Hoardings for Palm Hills Development, just one firm hit by disputes over state land deals (Photo: Fouad Mansour)

The Egyptian government has settled five disputed deals with European and Gulf investors out of court, the country's top investment official said, in a move that could lead to more cases being resolved and a boost to investor confidence.

Many Egyptians accuse ousted President Hosni Mubarak's government of doing deals that benefited the rich elite and top officials at the expense of the country's 80 million people.

His overthrow has prompted more citizens to challenge business deals made during his three decades in power. The disputes have added to an uncertain climate for the investors that Egypt needs to revive growth and attack unemployment.

Osama Saleh, head of the General Authority for Free Zones and Investment (GAFI), said a new set of standards had been agreed between the government and investors whose contracts had contained "false" procedures.

"We have laid down standards and applied them after agreeing them with the parties involved in deals that were heading towards lawsuits or international arbitration," said Saleh.

He said those new standards, which he did not detail, would resolve the legal challenges.

Several cases claiming that state-owned land was sold too cheaply by Mubarak's government were raised in the courts before the president was ousted in February.

But such disputes have gathered momentum since then.

An Egyptian court ruling in September cancelled deals to privatise three industrial companies and ordered them to be returned to the state.

"I am very optimistic. What happened is a good start as we open a door for investors instead of wasting time in courts and the rulings might not be in favour of investors," Saleh said.

The new standards announced by Saleh apply to some land disputes and other cases, but he did not disclose the companies involved in the settlements.

Al-Borsa newspaper named three of them as Dubai-based property developer Damac, Al-Futtaim and Egypt Kuwait Holding Company .

Saleh said discussions were under way to amend Egypt's investment law to allow for out-of-court reconciliation as a method to solve disputes. 

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