Former housing minister El-Maghrabi jailed for graft

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CAIRO: A former housing minister who served under ousted President Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and fined over an illegal land deal on Thursday, a judicial source said.

Ahmed El-Maghrabi was one of the first of Mubarak’s ministers to be questioned in a wide-ranging graft investigation demanded by protesters who accused the former president and his administration of amassing wealth at the public’s expense.

Egypt’s property sector, which delivered years of economic growth and boosted investment, has been hit hard by investigations into questionable state land sales.

El-Maghrabi was found guilty of arranging the illegal sale of land to businessman Mounir Ghabbour, who received a one-year suspended sentence. Both were found guilty of wasting public funds.

They were ordered to return a total of LE 72 million ($12.6 million) to the state and were together fined a further LE 72 million, the source said. It was not clear how much each would contribute to the fine.

The state news agency also published the court’s decision.

El-Maghrabi was minister when a court ruled last year that a deal with Talaat Moustafa Group, the country’s biggest developer, was illegal because the land was not auctioned and was sold below market value.

The court had said the sale was in violation of a 1998 law. The government said it was following laws that preceded that and drew up a plan to scrap the original contract and sign a new one with the firm.

That contract, signed during El-Maghrabi’s tenure, is being contested in court.

The government has hinted it may finalize a draft law that will recognize land sales by direct order — i.e. not by auction — carried out after the 1998 law, the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm said on Wednesday.

The draft law would put an end to court rows and might be submitted for approval in a few days, the paper said.

El-Maghrabi faces other charges of profiteering and wasting public funds in a suit involving Palm Hill Chief Executive Yasseen Mansour, a relative.


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