Update: Former agriculture minister referred to court on corruption charges

State Security prosecution referred former Agriculture Minister Salah Helal, along with other ministry officials and businessmen, to criminal court on corruption charges, state-owned Al-Ahram reported.

Helal was arrested just minutes after he officially announced his resignation on September 7.

Helal and other ministry officials are suspected of taking pay-offs in exchange for granting licenses for state land, said a statement issued by the acting prosecutor general.

The Administrative Oversight Committee ordered Helal’s arrest just after Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb formally accepted his resignation during a meeting at the Cabinet.

Helal’s office director, Mohieddin Mohamed Saeed, is also accused of accepting bribes, the prosecutor’s statement said. Saeed was arrested in early September, at which time the prosecution issued a media ban on the case.

Businessman Ayman al-Gameel is suspected of offering the bribes, with journalist Mohamed Fouda acting as a broker for the deals.

Fouda was arrested on the same day as Saeed. He was previously sentenced to five years in prison in a similar case in 2002, when he served as the secretary of former Culture Minister Farouk Hosni. Fouda was found guilty of facilitating the sale of a plot of land for the benefit of the ministry’s antiquities department in exchange for kickbacks.

Preliminary investigations have already been conducted, the prosecutor’s statement said, and the defendants will remain in custody pending the completion of criminal investigations.

Helal and Saeed are accused of illegally accepting an Ahly Sporting Club membership valued at LE140,000, expensive clothing from upscale boutiques worth LE230,000, two cellphones priced at LE11,000, the hosting of a Ramadan iftar dinner in a hotel for LE14,500, a pilgrimage to Mecca for 16 people at 70,000 riyals per person, and a housing unit in 6th of October City valued at LE8.25 million.

The gag order will remain in effect while the case is being investigated, the prosecutor’s statement said.

Local media reports have suggested that Gameel and Fouda may reconcile with the state, as they confessed to the crime and have cooperated with the authorities. But Sameh Samir, a lawyer at the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, says their cooperation in the case might not be enough to evade charges, given Article 107 of the Penal Code.

The article holds that those offering bribes, or facilitating such a transaction, may be exempt from prosecution if they cooperate with authorities. However, they are not exempt if they only confess after being arrested, or if one party confesses during investigations.

Monday’s statement made no mention of former ministers, other journalists or other Agriculture Ministry employees being implicated in the case, as has been reported in local media.

Helal, 59, was appointed agriculture minister in March after holding various positions in the ministry over the past 35 years. He served as the Qalyubiya culture secretary in former President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, and was also a member of the local city council in that governorate. 

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