British government inactive on freezing Mubarak regime accounts

The British government has allowed 19 members accused of embezzling under the former regime to keep for the past year and a half financial assets and real estate whose value is estimated in the millions, an investigation by the BBC found.

“The UK is one of the worst countries when it comes to tracing and freezing Egyptian assets,” Mohamed Mahsoub Abdel Meguid, a public investigator and newly appointed legal and parliamentary affairs minister, told BBC Arabic. “The UK is doing nothing less than bleeding Egyptian assets, which can only be to the detriment of the Egyptian nation.”

The six-month investigation conducted by BBC Arabic and released first by The Guardian newspaper and London-based channel Al-Hayat has found millions of pounds in assets unfrozen in violation of international sanctions, including properties in Knightsbridge and Chelsea, and companies registered in the UK. Meanwhile, the British government says it has frozen about US$125 million of Egyptian money. 

The report includes details of assets such as MedInvest Associates, a London-based investment firm directed by Gamal Mubarak, and his London home worth 10 billion British pounds. It also found that Negla al-Ghazarly, wife of former housing minister Ahmed al-Maghrabi, received a business license for a new company called “Essential Designs by Negla” in recent months, despite her husband’s jailing in Egypt for corruption.

Upon being presented with the findings, UK Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt told the BBC that he had no knowledge of the issues.

“In order for us to do our work, we need the information from the Egyptian authorities, and if that has not been forthcoming, we’ve not been able to help,” he said.

The Foreign Office told The Guardian it was working closely with its Egyptian counterparts to hunt down Mubarak regime assets.

The report comes nearly a year and a half after protesters mocked former President Hosni Mubarak’s luxurious lifestyle from the sidewalks of Tahrir Square.

At their most outrageous, estimates of Mubarak’s and his sons’ wealth reached US$700 billion. But to date, Egypt has yet to see any of the funds he allegedly funneled abroad, though diplomats and investigators say the process is ongoing.

In March, a leading London-based investigator involved in the restitution of Mubarak regime funds told The Guardian that the process would require precise detective work.

“These people have been in power for years and it will take years to unravel. We have seen in recent cases how they use corrupt lawyers and accountants [to move money],” the investigator said.

The British government’s inaction on freezing the accounts is in direct contrast to Switzerland, where investigators have frozen over US$700 million in Mubarak family and associates’ money.

The specifc details about assets abroad is welcome news to Egyptian activists and politicians who have struggled in the past year to acheive any concrete results on the issue.

The interim government was heavily criticized for its failure to bring back funds. Political turmoil distracted members of the Illicit Gains Authority and a People's House committee looking into the issure was dissolved with the Parliament. 

But this new report could rejuvenate politicians' will to repatriate the funds, after it seemed some had given up hope of seeing the money returned. 

Hossam Eissa, who previously headed a seperate Commission to Restore Egypt's Wealth, announced on Saturday that a new committee would be forming to track down and work for the return of the foreign-stashed money. He told the Arab media network "Perimeter" that the new committee will begin its meetings Tuesday. 

Eissa had previously lamented in June that Egypt's stolen funds were "lost forever." 

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