The four-member delegation met with officials from the Justice Ministry and Unit for Combatting Money Laundering (MOKAS) on Friday while spending yesterday with lawyers handling local court cases on their behalf. They are due to return today to a waiting Egyptian media that has been following their efforts intensely since the search began a year ago for Egypt’s missing millions.
Proceedings have already been launched in Cyprus against four companies, with the Egyptian authorities seeking disclosure of documents that could help them identify any links to key figures of the former regime and of course, any recoverable assets.
“Right after the toppling of the regime there has been a mass demand by Egyptians for asset recovery of the previous regime’s president and other top officials in the country,” said Egyptian Ambassador to Cyprus Menha Mahrous Bakhoum told the Sunday Mail yesterday.
The aim is to find, freeze and return all assets belonging to top members and families of the former dictatorship.
“This is a very top priority topic among the masses and Egyptian population. They have been protesting for days and months for this. Even in the early weeks of the revolution, recovering those assets was a demand of all the revolutionaries in the street,” said Bakhoum.
“And everybody in Egypt is waiting to see the results of this trip to Cyprus and to what extent we moved forward in the file of recovering those assets. It’s been highly covered by the media,” she said, noting that all Egyptians were following closely the pursuit of Mubarak’s millions.
Delegation member Ahmed Saad who works for Egyptian Illicit Gains Department said investigators carried a huge responsibility to the people to find these assets.
“People know are names, our faces. They know everything about us. They want a result. So, it’s a big responsibility,” he said.
Public prosecutor Mohamed Habib added: “Also, it’s something important for our country. The money from corruption could help in infrastructure projects, help our economy.”
Cyprus is the fifth European country visited, after Spain, Switzerland, UK and the Netherlands. In February 2011, just a month after the revolution that toppled Mubarak, the Egyptian Justice Ministry set up the Judicial Committee of Asset Recovery to start work tracing the foreign assets of 19 key figures in the regime.
Already, Switzerland has frozen around 410 million Swiss Francs (over €340m), which Egypt is in the process of getting back while a further £85m Sterling (€105m) has been frozen in the UK. The aim now is to recover those assets and find the rest.
Ironically, the recent trial of Mubarak saw him sentenced to life in prison for not stopping the killing of protestors in last year’s uprising, but also saw him and his two sons cleared of separate corruption charges, causing public uproar.
Asked whether any assets have been found in Cyprus, the ambassador said the process was still at a very early stage. “There is nothing concrete yet. We are investigating,” said Bakhoum.
The Egyptian diplomat expressed satisfaction with the Cypriot authorities’ level of cooperation at Friday’s meeting.
“The meeting went very well. It was very productive. The Cyprus government is giving full support,” she said.
The delegation is due back in Cyprus in the coming months after further consultations that should bring “more concrete results”, said Bakhoum.
Committee member and Assistant Minister of Justice Adel Fahmy told the Sunday Mail that the committee used a combination of tools to carry out the rather daunting task of identifying the exact number of assets and their location around the world.
“Some of the difficulties and obstacles we and other countries are facing is that we don’t know the exact place where the money is, in which bank and in whose name?” he said.
Fahmy noted that Egypt issued a request for Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) to all countries around the world in February 2011. It also successfully lobbied for an EU Regulation calling on all member states to freeze the assets of those identified to the regime by the Egyptian authorities. A further tool is reference to the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), though most of its provisions relating to asset recovery are of a voluntary nature.
“The most important thing here is the political will,” said Fahmy.
And where national authorities are unable to provide assistance due to their respective legal systems, the committee goes the way of the courts to get hold of valuable financial documents, as it has done in Cyprus and the UK.
Saad added the hope that Cyprus will take advantage of its EU Presidency this July to remind EU member states to enforce the regulation on freezing assets.
“You will have the presidency, you can help us,” he said.
By: Stefanos Evripidou