The fate of millions of pounds in Egyptian assets and ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s imminent release from prison have been the subject of media speculation since Saturday, when he was acquitted of conspiring to kill protesters in the January 25, 2011 revolution.
Mubarak, his sons Alaa and Gamal, former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and six other ministry officials had previously been found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in prison, the maximum jail time in Egypt. However, on appeal the guilty verdict was overturned due to lack of evidence, and the defendants were referred to a retrial.
The 86-year-old has been detained at the Maadi Military Hospital on separate charges of embezzlement in the presidential palace case, for which he was sentenced to three years in prison and fined LE120 million.
On Monday, attorney Wael Shebel said the prosecutorial team would deduct time served in pretrial detention from Mubarak’s sentence, and a decision regarding the continuation of Mubarak’s detention would be issued within the next 48 hours, reported the state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram.
Defense lawyer Yosri Abdel Razek told the London-based Ashraq al-Aswat newspaper that Mubarak had already served his time and only remains in detention because he refuses to pay the LE120 million fine.
“Mubarak will stay at the Maadi Military Hospital until the re-trial date. If the appeal is accepted by the Court of Cassation, he will be officially released,” Abdel Razek said.
A retrial is scheduled to begin on January 13.
Furthermore, according to the 2014 Constitution, if found innocent in retrial Mubarak would have the right to request financial compensation for his time in remand, civil defense lawyer and Egyptian Initiative for Personal rights member Hoda Nasrallah told Mada Masr.
“And since Mubarak was a president who was imprisoned, compensation for emotional damage will build up to a large sum of money,” Nasrallah added.
Although there was initially strong pressure to try Mubarak in a special tribunal, government officials ultimately stressed the importance of trying the former president in regular courts in order to ensure the return of his assets that had been smuggled abroad.
In 2011, a freeze was ordered on US$700 million in assets held in Switzerland, affiliated with 31 members of the Mubarak administration. The freeze was extended in 2013 as authorities attempted to determine their origins, a prerequisite to return the funds to Egypt.
However, after Saturday’s acquittal, it is now uncertain if it will be possible to recover these assets.
According to Osama Diab, a researcher in EIPR’s anti-corruption and transparency unit, the recent verdict makes Egypt’s case more difficult, but doesn’t completely rule out the reacquisition of the assets.
Under recent Swiss laws, criminal charges are no longer mandatory to return funds that had been smuggled into Switzerland, as long as evidence is filed with the Swiss authorities proving financial and political corruption, he said.
Diab confirmed that the Illicit Gains Authority has the power to move forward with new cases against Mubarak, both to help curtail public anger and to provide more evidence for the Swiss.
In the event that the assets are reacquired, Diab said that Egypt would abide by international regulations stipulating that the money cannot be reintroduced to the state treasury, the institution from which it was stolen or to any institutions with political affiliations.
“The money has to go to victims of corruption through developmental projects serving the most poor and least privileged,” Diab explained.
For example, these regulations wouldn’t allow Mubarak-era tycoon Hussein Salem to donate half of his assets to the Tahya Masr fundraising drive in return for dropping all charges against him, as he recently proposed. The charity fund was initiated by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to stimulate the economy shortly after he was elected.
“Such proposals are gravely problematic both constitutionally and legally, since giving back stolen money in return for acquittal contradicts the basics of justice,” Diab pointed out.
He also criticized the Reconciliation with Investors Law for unfairly granting favorable treatment to the rich at the expense of the people.
“Money is not everything,” Diab stressed. “The important thing is finding out the truth. Reconciliation can be only be granted with strict conditions, including returning all stolen assets and not just parts of them, paying damages of corruption to society, full confession of crimes and exclusion from any future contribution to political life, whether in person or through financing others.”