Egypt charges former Mubarak ally with corruption

Maggie Michael

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian authorities on Wednesday charged one of deposed leader Hosni Mubarak’s most trusted men with corruption, including the illegal acquisition of villas, lands and apartments originally owned by the state.

Safwat el-Sherif, who served as the minister of information for nearly two decades, joins a long list of other former Mubarak cronies — businessmen, ministers and others — to face trial over alleged corruption. Popular complaints of endemic graft in high-ranking government circles was one of the main drivers behind last year’s uprising that toppled the Mubarak regime.

The illicit gains branch of the Justice Ministry charged el-Sherif on Wednesday with using his position to illegally acquire villas, lands and apartments owned by the state. It also accused him of receiving gifts worth millions of Egyptian pounds from chief editors in the state media in return for keeping them in their posts, as well as taking bribes from advertising and media companies in return for privileges.

The ministry demanded el-Sherif, along with his two sons who also face similar charges, pay back 600 million Egyptian pounds ($100 million) to the state. No date has been set yet for the trial.

El-Sherif, who also served as the secretary general of the now-dissolved former ruling National Democratic Party as well as the speaker of the upper house of parliament, is already on trial in another case on charges of collaborating in the orchestration of attacks on peaceful protests during the 18-day uprising.

Also Wednesday, authorities placed on an airport watch list Ahmed Shafiq, who served as Mubarak’s last prime minister before narrowly losing Egypt’s first free presidential election after the uprising to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi.

Shafiq, who flew to the United Arab Emirates after Morsi was announced the presidential winner in June, is accused of illegally allocating large swaths of lands to Mubarak’s two sons, who also have been detained pending trial on different charges.

Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison in June for complicity in the killings of some 850 protesters during last year’s 18-day uprising. He is serving his sentence in a prison hospital on Cairo’s outskirts.

Right activists and families of slain protesters staged demonstrations decrying the sentence as light and some blamed it on the prosecutors, saying they presented a weak case with too little evidence. The prosecutors blamed security authorities for hiding and even damaging evidence.

On Wednesday, a Cairo court sentenced a top security official who was in charge of communications at the Interior Ministry to two years in prison for damaging CDs carrying recordings of phone calls between Mubarak and his security officers during the uprising. The CDs could have been used as evidence to who gave orders to shoot protesters in the streets.

The court said that Gen. Hussein Moussa deleted the content of the CDs. He claimed the erasure was accidental.