22nd Feb 2024

EU looking to freeze assets of Egyptian regime

EU finance ministers are set to discuss the potential for a co-ordinated freeze of assets held by leading members of ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's regime, following verbal requests to a number of EU member states from Egyptian authorities.

Some confusion remains as to whether Mr Mubarak himself will be included on the list of names discussed by finance ministers in Brussels on Tuesday (15 February), despite the ex-president using his 30 years in power to amass a fortune in cash, gold bars and luxurious properties, both inside Egypt and abroad.

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  • Downtown Cairo. Mr Mubarak and his associates are thought to hold an extensive list of luxury properties across Egypt and abroad (Photo: haramlik)

The EU may look at using a United Nations convention against corruption as grounds for freezing accounts and seizing assets, media reports suggest. Meanwhile, Egyptian state prosecutors have launched corruption investigations against three former government ministers and a member of parliament from Egypt's ruling National Democratic party.

In similar chronology to the recent lockdown on the assets of former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his family, Switzerland moved earlier than the EU to freeze the assets of Mr Mubarak and his associates on 11 February, the same day the former Egyptian hardman was forced to step down and fled to a holiday home in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

On Monday, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker simply said "yes" when asked whether Mr Mubarak's assets should be included in the freeze, while French finance minister Christine Lagarde said the issue would be discussed "at a European level".

Together with France and Germany, Britain is one of the EU country's to have received an individual request from Egyptian authorities to prevent assets being quickly whisked out of the country.

"We will of course co-operate with this request, working with EU and international partners as we have done in the case of Tunisia," British foreign minister William Hague told the UK parliament. "If there is any evidence of illegality or misuse of state assets we will take firm and prompt action."

Separately, Mr Hague also appealed to the Iranian regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to show restraint in dealing with internal demonstrations, inspired by the popular overthrow of the Mubarak regime.

Reports said Iranian police used batons and tear gas during a crackdown on protestors on Monday, in scenes reminiscent of the anti-regime rallies in the wake of Mr Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in June 2009.

"President Ahmadinejad last Friday told the Egyptian people that they had the right to express their own views about their country," said Mr Hague. "I call on the Iranian authorities to allow their own people the same right and to ensure that the security authorities exercise restraint."

In Egypt, widespread labour unrest appears to have continued beyond the downfall of Mr Mubarak, with hundreds of demonstrations, strikes and sit-ins at state companies and ministries taking place on Monday as employees cited grievances over low pay and poor working conditions.

The actions are in defiance of the new military junta, which banned meetings of trade unions on Sunday, in effect outlawing strikes, and ordered workers to return to their jobs.

Talks between the country's new military rulers and youth activists on Sunday evening suggest senior army officials may be moving to sideline Mohamed El Baradei, the Nobel laureate seen by some as a potential presidential candidate.

The military has promised to oversee a peaceful transition to democracy but Sahdi el-Ghazali Harb, an activist who attended Sunday's meeting, said there was "clear rejection" from military commanders to include Mr El Baradei in the transition, reports the Financial Times.

Mr Ghazali Harb also expressed concern at the military's push for a rapid handover of power to an elected civilian authority, arguing that a longer transition is needed to allow new political parties to take shape and gather support.

Formerly banned, the Muslim Brotherhood group is considered to be the largest and most organised opposition force in the country.

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