Saudi prince denies he will give up contested land in Toshka

Ahram Online, Tuesday 12 Apr 2011

Confusion reigns over the fate of huge tranches of land in Upper Egypt owned by the Saudi prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal after claims and counter-claims that he was prepared to terminate his controversial deal

Al Walid BinTalat
Al Walid undertook this step after an Egyptian public persecutor announced the freezing of his land in Toshka

Contrary to reports otherwise, Saudi prince and business tycoon Al-Walid Bin Talal has not conceded 100,000 feddans (420 million square metres) of land he owns in Toshka, Upper Egypt, according to his lawyer. Egypt’s state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA) had reported earlier on Tuesday that Egypt's prosecutor-general received a formal waiver from the Saudi billionaire confirming he was giving up any claim over the 100,000 feddans (420 million square metres).

Following this report, Mohamed Sami Gamal Eddine, the lawyer of the man Forbes lists as the richest Arab, told Al-Arabiya that his client did not concede the land. Instead he presented a demand to settle his disputes with the state. The first of these relates to ceding the land for the same value he paid in addition to the expenditures his company endured. The second option he gave to the Egyptian government is to concede 50,000 feddans to the youth of the revolution for LE50 per feddan while the prince will keep the remaining 50,000 feddans for himself.

Bin Talal undertook this step after Egypt’s prosecutor-general announced the freezing of his land in Toshka, a transaction that has long been criticized. The Saudi prince owns around 20 per cent of land in Toshka, a development project aiming to create half a million feddans of fertile land that former president Hosni Mubarak presented as a mega project. But after billions were spent and time passed without much movement, it was seen to be a failure.

The Saudi prince was reported by MENA to be willing to keep only 10,000 feddans (42 million square metres) and will not seek international arbitrage. This move was believed to be related to controversy surrounding the initial deal.

"Investigations revealed that the contract contained unknown provisions that violated the law and gave the company unjustified benefits,” the prosecutor-general’s spokesman, Adel El-Saeed, wrote in a statement. The contract for the transaction, signed by former agriculture minister Youssef Wali, didn't stipulate a timeline to cultivate the land "in violation of rules stipulating that the land must be completely reclaimed and cultivated within five years,” added Saeed.

The contract entitled Bin Talal to outright ownership of the land, set in a prime location near a water source and transportation links. The land, equivalent to 1 per cent of Egypt's total area was sold at the modest price of LE5 million, LE50 per feddan.

The prosecutor-general froze Wali’s assets on 10 April and issued the former minister with a travel ban while investigations are conducted into his conduct while in office.

The serving agriculture minister, Ayman Farid Abou-Hadid, told a press conference on 7 April that the terms of Bin Talal’s contract do not allow him to sanction him for delaying any work on the land.  

Bin Talal, estimated by Forbes to have a $19.6 billion fortune, has been at the centre of rumours and allegations in the wake of Mubarak’s ouster as president. The French daily Le Post was quoted in many Egyptian newspapers as saying that the prince offered to give the Egyptian government $4 billion for charges against Mubarak to be dropped.

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