Last Updated: Wed Feb 23, 2011 21:51 pm (KSA) 18:51 pm (GMT)

Mubarak associates in court as Egypt pursues graft

Three leading associates of Mubarak appeared in court wearing white prison uniforms
Three leading associates of Mubarak appeared in court wearing white prison uniforms

Three leading associates of ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak were greeted with insults when they appeared in court on Wednesday wearing white prison uniforms, while the authorities slapped travel bans on two former ministers.

The moves demonstrated the resolve of the military rulers who replaced Mubarak, toppled by mass protests on Feb. 11, to press ahead with a highly visible anti-corruption drive. The official news agency MENA said Atef Obeid, Egypt's prime minister from 1999-2004, was banned from travel by the public prosecutor, as were former culture minister Farouk Hosni and the head of Egypt's television and radio union Osama El Sheikh.

MENA gave no further details on the reasons for the bans.

In a Cairo court, three prominent figures from Mubarak's era were made to sit in a metal cage while a judge announced a ruling blocking commercial dealings in their property.

The three were Zuhair Garana, a former tourism minister; Ahmed el-Maghrabi, who held both the tourism and housing portfolios at different times; and Ahmed Ezz, a businessman who was a leading member of the ruling National Democratic Party.

They are awaiting trial on charges, which they deny, of abusing their positions to enrich themselves and stealing public money. Rachid Mohamed Rachid, a former trade and industry minister, is accused in the same case but is out of the country.

"Here are the thieves!"

Around 500 angry Egyptians gathered outside the court, many chanting "Here are the thieves!" Others threw stones at police cars they believed carried the defendants.

"You dogs!" shouted one courtroom visitor. "By God, you will be humiliated!" shouted another. "You sold off the country!" a third said.
State television said Garana was accused of giving state land to a tourist company as an incentive to invest in his own firm, Garana Tourism, which was facing financial difficulties. He told Reuters the accusations read like a "cheap play" and showed that Egypt had no effective law against slander.

According to MENA, Maghrabi sold a loss-making hotel in Aswan, run by a company he owned, to an investor at an inflated price and sold the investor a piece of government land in Matrouh at a cheap price in return for the favor.

MENA said Rachid used more than 200 million Egyptian pounds ($34 million) from a government export development fund for the benefit of companies he and his family owned and represented.

It said Ezz was accused of illegally taking control of state-owned al-Dekheila Steel which then supplied his Ezz Steel with steel at reduced prices, costing al-Dekheila heavy losses. Ezz Steel has said the investigation is a personal matter that will not affect its operations.

In another case, a court in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia blocked a range of assets of former Agriculture Minister Amin Abaza and Mohamed Abou El Enein, another senior figure of Mubarak's party and chairman of Cleopatra Ceramics.

France meanwhile said it will back an Egyptian request to freeze the assets of Mubarak and his family,

"Based on the United Nations convention on corruption, notably article 55, and in accordance with previous declarations, Michele Alliot-Marie has asked for this matter to be immediately transferred to the competent authorities so that a favorable response can be made," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

"We are also working with our European partners to respond best to the request from the Egyptian authorities," spokesman Bernard Valero told journalists.

The ministry gave no indication of what assets the Mubarak family might have in France.

Egypt's prosecutor general on Monday requested a freeze on the foreign assets of Mubarak and his family, 10 days after the longtime president resigned in the face of a popular uprising.

Abdel Magid Mahmud tasked Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit with contacting foreign countries to seek a freeze on assets held by Mubarak, his wife Suzanne, sons Alaa and Gamal and their wives Heidi Rasekh and Khadiga al-Gammal.

Switzerland, which froze Mubarak's assets within hours of his resignation on February 11, said on Sunday that the former president had "tens of millions of francs" in Swiss financial institutions.

Nationwide protests erupted on January 25, ending Mubarak's firm grip on power in less than three weeks and sending shockwaves far beyond the borders of the Arab world's most populous nation.

Around 365 people were killed and about 5,500 wounded during the 18 days of protests which led to Mubarak's resignation and a military rule headed by Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi.

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