On 6 April, the General Court of the European Union announced it would cancel the EU Council’s 2018, 2019, and 2020 extensions of the decision to freeze the assets of Hosni Mubarak’s family — his wife Suzanne, sons Gamal and Alaa and their wives Heidy Rasekh and Khadiga Al-Gammal, Gamal Essam El-Din reports.
The court also ruled the EU must pay legal costs incurred by the Mubarak family, and that the unfrozen funds would be made available after the expiry of the 70-day period for appealing the court’s decisions.
The freezes were initially adopted in 2011 and were intended to assist the Egyptian authorities recover misappropriated state-owned assets. “In this context,” said the General Court’s website, “the EU froze the assets of a number of prominent Egyptian figures, including Mubarak, his wife, and two sons and their wives, following his ouster after 30 years in power,” said the website.
The sanctions were annulled on the basis that “the council failed to adequately verify observance of the rights of the defence, and the right to effective judicial protection in respect of the Egyptian proceedings that formed the evidential basis for the sanctions.”
“The EU General Court’s judgement clearly shows that the decision unfreezing the Mubarak family’s assets is due to inconsistent legal procedures and the Egyptian authorities failure to cooperate in a way that would help substantiate charges against the Mubarak family.” said Gamal Zahran, a professor of political science at Port Said University.
Carter-Ruck, a British law firm that specialises in libel, privacy, international law and commercial disputes, was part of the Mubaraks legal team and issued a statement following the EU’s General Court ruling saying it “confirms the unlawfulness of EU sanctions imposed on former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his family”.
“In oral submissions before the court in September 2021 the EU Council confirmed there were violations of fundamental rights in two specific Egyptian proceedings it had previously relied on to impose sanctions,” said the statement, without giving further details.
The court’s decision was welcomed by the Mubarak family as a complete vindication. Alaa, the late president’s older son, tweeted in English on 6 April that “in a new decision today, the EU General Court has provided further unequivocal judicial acknowledgment that restrictive measures imposed on president Mubarak and his family by the EU Council were unlawful from the outset, ending a decade-long legal battle.”
Younger son Gamal subsequently issued a statement saying “the family has already received a substantial payment from the EU Council to refund legal costs, and we expect to get more funds.”
He also wrote that he has asked lawyers to explore legal avenues to compensate the family for damages caused by the EU Council’s unlawful measures against it.
Within a week of the ruling, Swiss prosecutors dropped an 11-year investigation into alleged money laundering and organised crime linked to persons close to late president Hosni Mubarak.
The office of the Swiss attorney-general said in a statement on 14 April that despite numerous “inquiries, and having transferred 32 million Swiss francs to Egypt in 2018, the office of the attorney-general must now accept that the investigation has been unable to substantiate suspicions that would justify the indictment of anyone in Switzerland or any forfeiture of assets.”
It added that the proceedings against five suspects who are members of the Mubarak family will therefore be abandoned, and the assets still under seizure (amounting to 400 million Swiss francs, or LE7.8 billion at the current exchange rate) will be released.
Again, Mubarak’s two sons, Alaa and Gamal, hailed the decision as a complete exoneration of the family. Gamal Mubarak issued a statement in English saying it “validates the position we have held all along following more than a decade of intrusive investigations, sanctions, and mutual legal assistance proceedings.”
Alaa Mubarak tweeted on 14 April that the “Swiss federal prosecutor after 11 years completely exonerates Alaa and Gamal Mubarak and confirms the legality of all their activities and related assets, and investigations reveal that all assets owned by them were fully declared to relevant Egyptian authorities.” Alaa also said the decision of the Swiss prosecutors means that he and his brother Gamal were acquitted of all financial corruption charges previously brought against them.
Zahran believes the Swiss decision is the result of “unfruitful cooperation between the Egyptian and Swiss prosecution authorities”. It is clear from the Swiss attorney-general’s statement that “repeated inquiries for supplementary information on the case sent to Egyptian authorities received no answer and so the investigation was unable to substantiate suspicions” said Zahran.
The office of the attorney-general of Switzerland had been conducting an investigation into suspicions of money laundering and supporting organised crimes in connection with events surrounding the 25 January Revolution 2011. The complex and extensive criminal case initially involved 14 suspects, including Mubarak’s two sons, and 45 legal entities which, as third parties, hold assets that have been seized.
The suspects, most of whom held important economic positions in Egypt, were suspected of having laundered funds in Switzerland that had been obtained from corrupt financial transactions.
Between 2012 and 2019, the office of the attorney-general of Switzerland sent numerous requests to Egyptian authorities seeking information on the status of prosecutions and judicial or criminal proceedings being conducted against persons implicated in the Swiss proceedings. As this information was not received, mutual legal assistance proceedings could not be completed.
Fakhri Al-Fiqi, chairman of the Egyptian parliament’s Budget Committee, estimates that as much as $132 billion was smuggled from Egypt to European banks, many of them in Switzerland. The UK Times reported that Mubarak’s sons maintained “six secret accounts” with Credit Suisse worth 232 million Swiss francs.
Zahran says “it was expected that Mubarak’s two sons would welcome the unfreezing of their assets in Europe, but they still have to explain how they acquired these huge sums of money.
“I think most Egyptians would want to know how Mubarak and his family were able to amass such an eye-watering fortune.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.