CAIRO: Some lawyers are blaming the controversial Al-Salam 98 ferry case verdict on the fact that former Prosecutor General Maher Abdel Wahed had referred it to the Safaga misdemeanors court instead of a criminal court.
As the outcome continues to spur public furor, lawyers of the victims’ families said the case’s referral to a misdemeanors court paved the way to the acquittal of Mamdouh Ismail and other company officials.
“We are not going to point fingers at anyone in particular, but as the defense committee, we are certain that the case was referred to the misdemeanors court instead of a criminal court to let Mamdouh Ismail get away with the crime of murder, Yasser Fathi, one of the lawyers in the defense committee, told Daily News Egypt.
“Even with the case at the misdemeanors court, they weren’t penalized for forging official documents which prove that Al-Salam 98 was fit for service when it actually wasn’t, which is why Ismail and his partners were acquitted, added Fathi.
Al-Salam 98 Boccaccio ferry sank in the Red Sea on Feb. 3, 2006, claiming the lives of 1,034 Egyptians on their way back from Saudi Arabia. On July 27, 2008 the Safaga misdemeanors court found Ismail, his son Amr and three other Al-Salam Company executives not guilty of manslaughter charges.
Alaaeddin Shahin, the captain of Saint Catherine ferry, was sentenced to six months in jail and fined LE 10,000 for failing to show “compassion and not offering assistance to the sinking ship.
The case was referred to Safaga’s misdemeanors court in 2006 and even then it fueled ire.
Magdy Mehanna, the late columnist with Al-Masry Al-Youm, had written in May 26, 2007: “It is clear that the Prosecutor General’s decision to refer the case to the misdemeanors court means that Mamdouh Ismail and his son Amr are certainly going to be acquitted.
Hours after the verdict was announced, incumbent Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud said he will appeal the ruling because the court has ignored much of the evidence.
Mahmoud demanded a retrial because of “violations in documented records, corruption in investigation, shortcomings in validating and arbitrary conclusions, Egypt’s official MENA news agency reported.
There has even been talk of taking the matter to the International Criminal Court.
“If the court issues the same verdict at the appeal with the same attitude, which was by ignoring all the evidence and testimonies that prove Ismail is guilty, then justice has not been served. We will [then] have to take the case to the International Criminal Court, which has the authority to look over a case even if the Egyptian court has already ruled on it, explained Fathi.
The appeal in the case of Al-Salam 98 is scheduled for Sept. 3, 2008.