The UK government has failed to freeze the assets of former members of the ousted Mubarak regime, an ongoing investigation by BBC Arabic revealed Monday.
The assets of 19 individuals – mainly former Egyptian officials and their relatives, including the former president and his two sons – were supposedly frozen by the UK government in March of last year in the wake of Egypt’s Tahrir Square uprising.
A six-month-long BBC Arabic investigation, released in conjunction with the UK’s Guardian newspaper and pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat, however, claim that assets worth millions of pounds sterling – including property in Knightsbridge and Chelsea, along with UK-registered companies belonging to the 19 individuals in question – had been found to have been unfrozen by the UK government.
These assets “have direct connections to the names on the official sanctions list, and yet have not been frozen,” a Monday statement released by the BBC read.
Many of the names on the list have not been convicted for financial corruption, having been tried in Egypt. These names include Hosni Mubarak and sons Gamal and Alaa, who were acquitted in June of bribery charges in what was dubbed Egypt’s “trial of the century.”
Mubarak’s two sons, however, still face money laundering charges in a Cairo court.
Others, however, have been found guilty of corruption in cases mainly related to the sale of state land at reduced prices. For example, former tourism minister Zoheir Garana, whose name is included on the list, was sentenced to eight years in prison last September for corrupt financial practices.
The UK government claims to have frozen a total of £85 million ($133 million) worth of Egyptian assets.
Nevertheless, investment firm MedInvest Associates, a London-based company headed by Gamal Mubarak, was never frozen, the Guardian reported on Monday, adding that the firm was simply left to dissolve of its own accord. The British newspaper, however, failed to indicate whether the younger Mubarak actually owned shares in the company.
Similarly, the Guardian pointed to a property worth 10 million British pounds, to which Gamal Mubarak, the paper asserted, is “heavily linked.” The property in question – a residence in the upscale London district of Knightsbridge – “was listed as the Mubarak family home on the birth certificate of Gamal’s daughter, born in London in 2010,” the Guardian reported.
Notably, the Guardian goes on to report that Naglaa El-Ghazarley, wife of former housing minister Ahmed El-Maghrabi, who was convicted in Egypt on corruption charges, was allowed to open a new business in the UK months after her name appeared on the UK Treasury’s financial sanction list in March of last year.
El-Ghazarley formally registered her business, “Essential Designs by Nejla,” last November.
The Egyptian authorities, for their part, have expressed disappointment with the UK government’s seemingly feeble efforts to recover Egyptian assets abroad.
Earlier this year, Assem El-Gohary, assistant minister of justice and chairman of Egypt’s Illicit Gains Authority (IGA), charged that UK authorities were not cooperating enough.
“The Egyptian government should sue the UK Treasury to force it to be more cooperative and provide more information about frozen assets,” an informed judicial source told Ahram Online in April.
The source went on to accuse the British government of “just paying lip service,” when it came to the issue of repatriating Egyptian assets in the UK. “Following 13 months of meetings and consultations, the IGA concluded that taking the UK Treasury to court was the only option left,” he told Ahram Online.
Egypt’s government is currently taking legal action against the UK Treasury for the latter’s perceived reluctance to cooperate with Egypt.
In hopes of pre-empting any potential embarrassment, Downing Street is reportedly planning to send a legal expert – with considerable experience in asset recovery – to Cairo to aid Egypt in its quest to recoup lost assets, an informed UK source told Ahram Online.
A BBC documentary detailing the findings of the investigation will air on BBC Arabic on 3 September at 19:05 (GMT). A shorter version of the same investigative report will air on BBC Two at 22:30 (GMT) the same day.
British media, especially the Guardian, has its own unique history regarding Egypt’s revolution. On 4 February of last year, during the 18-day uprising that ultimately unseated Mubarak, it ran a story quoting “experts” who said that Mubarak’s personal fortune could stand at as much as $70 billion.
Despite the unrealistic nature of the figure given the size of Egypt’s economy, the Guardian’s speculation at the time fuelled the anger of anti-regime protestors and fed the outrage of everyday Egyptians, with local media quoting the British newspaper’s far-fetched report as fact.
The reports also served to unrealistically raise the expectations of many Egyptians for a quick economic recovery upon the repatriation of the pilfered assets.