The United States government has received a more than 100-page “formal charging document” concerning non-governmental organization (NGO) workers in Egypt who are under investigation, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday.
“We now have a formal charging document,” State Department State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters. “We are in the process of reviewing (it).”
By the time of the briefing, “we were still working through it, both as a translation issue and as a legal matter, to understand exactly what is expected in this charging document of individual Americans,” Nuland said.
Egyptian judges probing alleged illegal foreign funding of NGOs earlier on Wednesday had accused domestic and foreign groups, including American ones, of illegally meddling in politics.
The NGOs are operating “without license,” and their work “constitutes pure political activity and has nothing to do with civil society work,” Judge Sameh Abu Zeid told a press conference.
The judge said December raids on 17 offices of local and foreign NGOs as part of a probe into illegal funding had been conducted “according to the law.”
“It is a very large and complicated case involving hundreds of people and organizations, Egyptian and foreign,” he said.
He said dozens of people had been referred to trial because there was deemed to be enough evidence.
Among them are 19 Americans, a fact that prompted a trio of leading U.S. senators to warn Egypt that the risk of a “disastrous” rupture in ties had “rarely been greater.”
Abu Zeid said “there is much evidence, including witness accounts, expert accounts and confessions. There are 67 items of evidence,” Abu Zeid said.
The groups being investigated include the U.S. International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Freedom House and the German Konrad-Adenauer Foundation.
“The foreign organizations are not civil society groups but branches of organizations based abroad,” said Abu Zeid.
He said security agencies had repeatedly refused to register the NGOs who “have been working in Egypt for years on tourist visas.
“They received orders from abroad to do this and were told not to get work permits. They also violated Egyptian tax laws.”
He said the case involved NGOs that had received illegal funding from the United States, from European countries and also from Arab countries.
Investigations showed that their work “took another dimension after the January 25 revolution” that ousted president Hosni Mubarak last year, Abu Zeid said.
“The activities became political, related to training political parties or mobilizing people.
“Money was transferred to the organizations through a range of ways, including in individual accounts of employees, instead of in bank accounts in the organization’s name; or through money transfer companies,” he said.
Will not be swayed
Earlier on Wednesday, Egyptian authorities said they would not be swayed by threats to aid when investigating the groups and NGOs after Washington warned that U.S. military support worth $1.3 billion a year may be in jeopardy.
“Egypt will apply the law ... in the case of NGOs and will not back down because of aid or other reasons,” army-appointed Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri told a news conference.
The case has put a deep strain on relations with Washington, which counted Egypt as a close strategic ally under ousted President Hosni Mubarak. Both U.S. Congress and the White House have warned that the crackdown could threaten the aid budget.
Two Egyptian officials told Reuters on Tuesday that the government would back down because allowing the row to drag on could jeopardize aid from Washington that began flowing after Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab state to make peace with Israel.
The row adds to tensions over an uncertain transition to democracy under an army council which took charge after Mubarak was driven from office by a popular uprising on Feb. 11. Egypt is still reeling from political turmoil and violence.
Some of the U.S. citizens, belonging to the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Republican Institute (IRI), which have loose links to the top U.S. political parties, sought refuge in the American embassy.
U.S. officials have not said how many.