By Heba Fahmy
CAIRO: Political and law experts were divided over a proposal to settle with defendants still undergoing investigations or standing trials in cases of squandering public funds.
“I speculate that the people won’t easily accept a deal like this, because they believe that these defendants have corrupted Egypt for years,” political science professor at Cairo University Karim Adel-Razeq told Daily News Egypt.
Minister of Finance Momtaz El-Saeed said in a press conference on Tuesday that there are some offers from former officials detained in Tora prison to settle in some cases related to financial corruption.
The defendants include former leading member of the fallen National Democratic Party and steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz and former minister of housing Ahmed Al-Maghrabi, according to media reports.
Ezz is on trial for money laundering of over LE 4 billion from 2001 to 2011. His trial was adjourned to April 1.
Al-Maghrabi’s trial has been adjourned to March 17. He’s charged with squandering public funds and illicit gains.
Adel-Razeq believed that striking a deal that would immediately retrieve the state’s stolen money would benefit the country, more than dragging the case in courts for years.
“We need this money now, instead of looking for foreign aid that we might not get anytime soon,” said Abdel-Razeq, adding that the defendants should be prosecuted for corrupting the political scene in Egypt and forging parliamentary elections.
Deputy Dean of Cairo University’s faculty of law, Anas Gaafar said that the law could be applied in cases of squandering public funds and making illegitimate gains which is the case with Ezz.
However, stripping land from the state in the case of Al-Maghrabi should be tried in court and firmly dealt with.
“In cases of stealing land from the state, no deal should be brokered because this would encourage investors and businessmen to repeat this again and again,” he told DNE.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued a law on Jan. 3 to settle with investors under legal investigations in cases of squandering of public funds.
The law is an adjustment to the Investments Guarantees and Incentives Law No. 7 of 1997, giving the government full authority to settle with investors in financial corruption probes even if they are referred to criminal courts or are subject to preliminary prison sentences.
The law was pushed through 20 days before the newly-elected parliament was seated on Jan. 23.
“The People’s Assembly (PA) expressed its disdain for the law which allows corrupt investors to return the money they stole without adding the interests they accumulated from it,” said former head of Alexandria Cassation Court, Justice Ahmed Mekky.
Abdel-Razeq said that a financial compensation should be added to the sum of money stolen by the corrupt investors, in exchange for their freedom.
Last month, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) slammed the law and sent a memo to the PA’s legislative and economic committees, demanding its repeal.
“[The law is] a dangerous indication of the government’s intentions to protect the interests of investors even if this goes against the law, in order to protect the corruption networks inherited from the Mubarak era, [which] do not seem to have ended with his ouster,” head of EIPR’s Social Justice Program, Amr Adly, said in a statement released last month.
Critics said that the law gave corrupt businessmen who received loans with minimal guarantees and fled the country over the past 10 years an opportunity to dodge legal accountability.
The law also failed to distinguish between small investors who were unable to pay off their debt due to serious business turmoil, and others who exploited the law to squander funds.
Mekky said that if the law isn’t amended by the PA, it would be legally sound.
He, however, described the decision as “political” rather than legal.
“I believe a deal should be brokered depending on the possibility of retrieving the stolen money and the atrocity of the crimes committed,” he said.