Exclusive: Egypt-UK consultations on Mubarak regime assets in deadlock

Amer Sultan in London, Saturday 14 Apr 2012

The Egyptian Ministry of Justice is suing the UK Treasury to force it to reveal information that could help in the repatriation of LE850 million in assets linked to the former Mubarak regime, Ahram Online learns

Mubarak family
The Mubarak family before the fall (Photo: Ahram file)

Consultations between the UK and Egypt on the recovery of frozen Egyptian assets in the UK have reached a deadlock, Ahram Online has learned.

The Egyptian government has to sue the UK Treasury to force it to be more cooperative and provide more information about the frozen assets, an informed source told Ahram Online.

Assem Al-Gohary, assistant minister of justice and chair of the Illicit Gains Department (IGD), confirmed that UK authorities are not cooperating enough.

“The Ministry of Justice has filed a lawsuit in the UK's high administrative court against the UK Treasury with the purpose of getting a judicial order to oblige it to reveal the information needed to repatriate the frozen assets,” he said.

Ahram Online understands the court received the legal complaint 9 March.

Al-Gohary pointed out that undertaking judicial procedures was a last resort after Egypt received a Treasury decision mid-December affirming that it is not possible for it to reveal information about the frozen assets.

The UK Treasury argues that revealing such information will breach national laws such as the Data Protection Act and Account Confidentially Act, another Egyptian judicial source told Ahram Online.

Egypt argues that the UK Treasury's position violates the UN Treaty Against Corruption (UNTC) and an EU regulation issued on 21 March 2011.

The regulation targets assets, accounts and properties of 19 Egyptian figures, including the toppled president, his family members, former ministers and some others closely connected to his former regime. However, the UK Treasury denies the Egyptian claims.

A UK Treasury spokesman told Ahram Oline that the Treasury is cooperating with the Egyptians. “We are cooperating and will always be cooperative within UK laws,” he said.

“The Asset Freezing Unit (AFU) of the UK Treasury is just a freezing of assets body and does not have the authority to repatriate [the assets] to Egypt,” the spokesman added. He also confirmed that his department is ready to discuss any legal issues with Egyptian officials.

The AFU has frozen, based on the EU regulation, about £85 million (nearly LE850 million) worth of assets, accounts and properties.

The UK earlier blamed Egyptian authorities for their slowness in repatriating assets the London-based Treasury had frozen. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said Egypt did not respond to a UK proposal to help when offered around three months ago.

"We had organised for an Egyptian delegation to visit the UK towards the end of December to meet UK experts and discuss issues relating to asset freezing. Unfortunately, the Egyptian team had to cancel their visit at the last moment," an FCO spokesman said.

In response, Al-Gohary dismissed such meetings, saying that Egypt needs effective cooperative not discussion. “We are not going to attend useless meetings in which the British refuse to provide us with information and real help,” he said.

Al-Gohary revealed that five meetings have been held with British officials in Cairo, London and The Hague. According to the Al-Gohary, who is also chair of Asset Recovery Judicial Committee (ARJC), Egyptians did not gain useful information or any other benefit from these meetings.

The Egyptian Ministry of Justice has hired a London-based law company specializing in asset recovery to deal with the British authorities on its behalf.

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