CAIRO: The architect of one of Egypt’s most notorious pyramid schemes was released from prison Tuesday after about 22 years spent behind bars.
Businessman Ahmed Abdel-Fatah El-Gabry, known as Ahmed El-Rayan was convicted of fraud in 1989 for a scam involving billions of pounds in the 1980s.
Depositors were tempted to invest in his company which offered interest rates far higher than banks.
El-Rayan remained incarcerated for about 7 years following the completion of his 15-year-sentence; a fact which lawyer Nasser Amin describes as a “misuse of the emergency law.”
“The past 20 years have witnessed several violations of human rights where the emergency law was imposed on irrelevant crimes,” Amin, also director of the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Practice, told Daily News Egypt Wednesday.
According to press reports, recent amendments to the emergency law that restricted its application to terrorism and drug-related crimes, have meant that there was no logical reason for keeping El-Rayan in prison.
An appeals court had initially suspended his release order Tuesday for having been sentenced to another three years in prison in absentia for a bounced check.
El-Rayan was released after his family presented proof that he had settled this dispute earlier.
According to press reports, while in jail, El-Rayan had been denied multiple requests to be transferred to a non-prison hospital for medical treatment.
Appeals by his family for his release on parole were also turned down by the Ministry of Interior.
“Is it worth imprisoning someone for [all these] years just because there is a possibility he still has money [deposited in banks] abroad?” asked Maha, El-Rayan’s daughter, in a letter received by weekly independent El-Youm El-Sabe’ newspaper editor-in-chief about seven months ago.
“All those who still raised accusations [against him] had no proof. My father authorized the Public Prosecutor to withdraw all his money from foreign countries,” she added.
The 1980s were notorious for pyramid schemes, especially with low interest rates offered by banks, high prices of gold and stagnation in the real estate market.
Such economic conditions paved the way for the appearance of such companies, tempting thousands of Egyptians, many of whom working in the Gulf, to invest their life savings in El-Rayan’s and similar companies.
Such companies adopted an Islamic cloak at a time when the advent of Islamic ideologies had a great impact on Egyptian society and people believed that bank interest was haram, that is, forbidden according to Islamic law.
“I deposited the money I made over years of hard work in El-Rayan Company, thinking that this was the right way to invest it,” one victim told Daily News Egypt on condition of anonymity.
“However, when the government arrested him and took hold of the company and its assets, I received only a minimal part of my money years later,” he added.
Some observers, however, believed that there was nothing fishy about these companies and that the government cracked down on them to protect the banking system from collapse.
“Such cases could have been settled entirely through negotiations conducted by the Public Prosecutor,” Amin argued.
“What happened was a mistake committed by the two parties, the companies, and the authorities. [Pyramid scheme] practiced fraud under a religious cover. On the other hand, the government dealt very aggressively with them, seizing the money, which [eventually] became part of a circle of corruption,” he added.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, founders of companies like El-Saad, El-Rayan, El-Huda Masr and others pleaded the authorities to release them and give them the chance to run their companies again and settle their dues with the depositors. But the government refused to respond to their pleas.
“We gained nothing from their imprisonment. Many depositors believe that the government back then invested the money after confiscating it, only giving [the depositors] back peanuts,” said another victim, who also declined to be named. –Additional reporting by Enas El-Masry