European countries may freeze Mubarak’s assets abroad

A British government minister said on Sunday that there should be an international approach to dealing with the overseas assets of deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his family in light of allegations that the recently ousted leader has assets valued in the millions dispersed throughout the world.

A spokesman for Britain's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) said in response to these allegations that the financial crime agency was looking for assets in Britain linked to Mubarak in case there was any request to seize them.

So far only Switzerland has announced a freeze on assets that might belong to Mubarak, who resigned on Friday night after 30 years in power.

British business minister Vince Cable said countries need to work together on Mubarak's assets, reported to be worth many millions of dollars and held secretly around the world.

When asked if Britain would follow Switzerland's lead, Cable told BBC television that he "was not aware that he had enormous assets here, but there clearly needs to be a concerted international action on this.

"There is no point one government acting in isolation, but certainly we need to look at it. It depends also whether his funds are illegally or improperly obtained," Cable added.

According to the SFO spokesman, protocol mandates that Britain may not act unless they receive a request from Egypt, the European Union or the United Nations to freeze any of Mubarak's assets.

Despite this, Cable said that the UK is "identifying where such assets might be in the event that we are asked to take action."

Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said Britain had not yet been asked to move against Mubarak's assets. "There are things that can be done, but so far there has not been a request," he told BBC radio.

Egypt's ambassador to London, Hatem Seif el Nasr, said he had no information about any of Mubarak's assets. "Truly, about the money I have absolutely no knowledge," he told BBC TV.

Switzerland has also frozen assets belonging to Tunisia's former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who was ousted by a popular uprising last month.

Freezing Mubarak's assets should motivate Egyptian authorities to ask for legal assistance and help prevent the withdrawal of funds, Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey told the Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung in an interview on Sunday.

Switzerland has worked hard to improve its image as a refuge for allegedly ill-gotten money. It has also locked down assets of Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo.

In an interview with Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag, Calmy-Rey said Switzerland had to ensure it did denied a haven for "dirty money … It cannot be that right at our door some people embezzle state funds and put them into their own pocket."

When asked about reports that assets were secretly held in London by Mubarak and Ben Ali's families, SFO head Richard Alderman told the Sunday Times that "the public would expect us to be looking for some of this money if we became aware of it, and to try to repatriate it for the benefit of the people of these countries."

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