Lack of political will impedes stolen asset recovery: Experts

Karim Hafez , Friday 29 Mar 2013

Egyptian and foreign governments have not been trying hard enough to recover assets stolen by former Mubarak regime figures, argued civil society experts

Hosni Mubarak
Egypt's ex-President Hosni Mubarak lies on a gurney inside a barred cage in the police academy courthouse in Cairo (Photo: AP)


An apparent lack of political will on the part of the Egyptian government and international actors, including the British and Swiss governments, is a major obstacle to the recovery of Egyptian stolen assets, said Ahmed Hossam, lawyer at Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), during a press conference Wednesday.

European governments are not willing to cooperate with Egypt on the issue of asset recovery, and countries that maintained good relationships with the Mubarak regime, in particular granting citizenship to some regime figures, have simply refrained from cooperating, said Hossam.

A BBC documentary from September last year suggested that the British government, for instance, failed to freeze assets of former members of the ousted Mubarak regime, despite promises to do so.

“There is sufficient evidence, and several local and international NGOs as well as media outlets have presented significant information to the British government. However, officials seem to be negligent about the matter,” said Nicholas Hildyard of the London-based NGO Corner House, during the press conference on the “recovery of stolen assets.”

There is substantial evidence that Gamal Mubarak is a major shareholder in companies such as Bullion Co. Limited based in Cyprus, Medinvest based in the United Kingdom and EGF Hermes Private Equity, explained Hildyard.

A report, entitled ‘Desperately Seeking Gamal’, which was published by Corner House, suggests that a number of private equity funds such as Bullion Co. Limited could have been used by Gamal Mubarak or other ex-regime figures for money laundering and as a cover for stolen assets.

“The activities of those companies are unknown and some of them have absolutely no investments according to the research we have made. If the authorities start investigating those companies, we are sure it will lead to important outcomes,” said Hildyard.

EFG Hermes Private Equity is a subsidiary of the leading investment bank EFG Hermes’s holding company. The company has said that Gamal Mubarak owns 18 percent of the firm.

Osama Diab, a researcher at the EIPR, gave the example of Nigeria as a success story in the recovery of stolen assets. After the death of former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha, political will from both Nigerian officials mixed with the legal expertise of Swiss law firms led to the recovery of almost $500 million in stolen assets, said Diab.

The new Egyptian reconciliation law is also one of the major obstacles in the process of asset recovery, as it will make it easier for ex-regime cronies to further hide their assets in exchange for a small sum of money, argued Diab.

The Egyptian government made a move last February to entice back convicted investors who have fled the country, offering them arbitration that could overturn verdicts issued in absentia and that may lead to "full reconciliation."

“If the Egyptian ruling authority is committed to the recovery of looted funds and stolen assets it must terminate the reconciliation law immediately and form a committee independent from the executive branch that include experts on money laundering and international law,” concluded Diab.

Lawyer Ahmed Hossam called upon foreign governments to recognise the difficulty of gathering criminal evidence against ex-regime officials and the flaws and loopholes of the Egyptian legal system, and start investigations without judicial sentences or clear convictions for each specific case. 

The British government has said on several occasions that it needed formal convictions from Egyptian courts to be able to fully cooperate on the recovery of stolen assets. 

The Egyptian Court of Cassation has recently ordered the retrial of former petroleum minister Sameh Fahmy and Mubarak-era business tycoon Hussein Salem in the Egypt-Israel gas case, after both had been sentenced to 15 years.

Several ex-regime figures have been acquitted of corruption charges, including Mubarak’s minister of tourism Zuheir Garana and minister of housing Ahmed El-Maghrabi.

Other key Mubarak-era figures, including the notorious Safwat El-Sherif and Zakariya Azmi, were also recently released.

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