A Cairo appeals court upheld a verdict issued against the former chief of Egypt’s Central Auditing Authority (CAA) Hesham Geneina in July sentencing him to one year in prison and a fine of LE20,000. On Thursday, the court suspended the prison sentence, and added a conditional three-year probation period to the verdict.
Geneina’s lawyer, Ali Taha, told Mada Masr that the three-year probation is meant to keep Geneina silent.
“This sort of probation is rarely issued,” Taha explained. “In addition to the one-year suspended sentence, the three-year probation means that if Geneina issues statements deemed to be a threat to public security any time over the duration of three years, then the one-year sentence issued against him may be enforced and upheld.”
Taha added that this a sort of informal gag order. “It means if he publicly speaks out regarding corruption, irregularities in state finances, or anything else they consider to be false news – then he can easily be thrown into prison for one year. It means he’d better stay quiet.”
The lawyer stated that he will appeal against the verdict before the Court of Cassation, and hopes that the sentence issued against his client will be overturned.
“In July 2015, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a law designed specifically for Geneina’s removal from office. This is a historical precedent,” Taha pointed out, referring to an executive decree issued by Sisi to sack Geneina, along with other auditors, from office in light of the statements the auditor had made regarding the real extent of state corruption.
“The only party which should be legally entitled to remove such auditors from office is Parliament,” Taha clarified. “It is the authority entrusted with such public oversight.”
In July, a Cairo criminal court had sentenced Geneina to one year imprisonment, in addition to a fine of LE 20,000, after finding him guilty of disseminating false news deemed harmful to state institutions, which “threatened public peace.”
In light of July’s sentencing, the court had released Geneina on LE10,000 bail.
The charge of spreading false information is based on the state’s response to an interview that the leading auditor had given to the privately owned Youm7 news portal in December 2015, while he was still presiding over the CAA, in which he stated that previous reports by CAA members indicated that “corruption in 2015 exceeded LE600 billion.”
The ruling authorities went on to accuse Geneina of exaggerating these claims of corruption and misconstruing these figures.
President Sisi had subsequently dismissed Geneina from his post as CAA chief in March, in a move that was perceived to be an official show of disapproval of the auditor’s statements regarding corruption within state institutions.
Geneina’s statements and figures were based on a report entitled, “Analysis of the cost of corruption in sectors in Egypt.” In June, Mada Masr published this report, and subsequent analysis has indicated that these figures disclosed by Geneina are a “very conservative estimate” of the extent of official corruption nationwide.
In a televised interview with the BBC in July, Geneina commented that “Terrorism and corruption are two sides of the same coin, but corruption is more dangerous to Egypt than terrorism.”