Court sentences steel magnate to 10 years for graft

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CAIRO: The Cairo Criminal Court on Thursday sentenced steel magnate Ahmed Ezz and former industrial development chief Amr Assal to 10 years in prison and a joint fine of LE 660 million ($110.9 million) for corruption under ex-president Hosni Mubarak.

The court also sentenced former Trade and Industry Minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid in absentia to 15 years and a fine of LE1.4 billion, his third conviction in three months.

Shares of Ezz Steel fell 8.9 percent before the Egyptian bourse suspended trading on the stock "pending the firm’s replies to inquiries", it said without giving details.

The verdicts hit trading in general, as the stock market fell 2.7 percent by close. Investors remain jittery over the political uncertainty in a country that faces regular street protests and where the timetable for new elections is unclear.

The presiding judge said it would be up to Ezz, who was a senior ruling party official before Mubarak’s overthrow in a popular uprising, and Assal to pay the fine between them, representing the total of public money he said they had wasted.

Ezz, Assal and Rachid were all found guilty of collaborating to grant licenses without payment of fees. Judge Mostafa Hassan Abdallah revoked the licenses.

Rachid, believed to be outside Egypt, was sentenced to another five years in July for misusing public funds along with two other business executives and they were each fined 4 million pounds.

Rachid, who was a regular at the World Economic Forum in Davos and an important figure for major grain importer Egypt in the commodities market, also received a five-year sentence in June for profiteering and squandering public funds and was ordered to pay LE 18.8 million.

He left the country a few days after the eruption of mass protests in January that toppled Mubarak three weeks later.

Ezz, who quit the board of Ezz Steel and its Ezz Dekheila Steel unit in May to fight the charges, has denied wrongdoing.

The ruling can be appealed at the Court of Cassation.

Ezz was a senior official in Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, which was dissolved after the popular uprising that ousted the autocratic president from power in February.

The company’s shares have tumbled 56 percent this year as a crisis in the construction sector sapped demand for its products and investors speculated that the charges against Ezz would damage the company’s business.

Ezz Steel had said in March it did not expect the probe targeting Ahmed Ezz to affect its operations.


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