Egypt puts top ex-ministers on trial in graft crackdown

CAIRO Sun Apr 17, 2011 6:04pm BST

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt put two former top ministers on trial on Sunday, widening a crackdown on graft as the ruling generals seek to show their seriousness about ending the corruption that led to President Hosni Mubarak's ouster.

No date has yet been set for the trial of former prime minister Ahmed Nazif and finance minister Youssef Boutros-Ghali, but the decision is likely to further appease the pro-democracy protesters who ended Mubarak's 30-year rule in February and demanded the administration be punished.

Many investors and businessmen highly regarded Nazif and Boutros-Ghali for spearheading free-market reforms that helped boost economic growth to around an annual 7 percent in the three years before the 2008 global economic crisis.

But many Egyptians see the ministers as corrupt, just like a raft of other senior officials being interrogated or already on trial, over a range of graft-related charges.

The prosecution said the two ex-ministers were charged with irregularities in procuring vehicle licences, costing the state about 92 million Egyptian pounds ($16 million) in lost revenue.

Last week, the prosecutor ordered Mubarak, 82, and his two sons, Gamal and Alaa, detained for questioning on corruption allegations, a move that won Egypt's military rulers respite from the protests that had challenged their authority.

Mubarak's sons are now in prison, along with several other senior ministers and aides.

But the former president was admitted to a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh with an unspecified illness the day he was ordered detained, raising suspicions the military was trying to shield its former commander-in-chief from justice.

MUBARAK TRIAL NOT IMMINENT

On Friday the prosecutor's office ordered the transfer of Mubarak to a military hospital in Cairo, saying he would stay there until he was well enough to be interrogated again.

But medical and security sources in Sharm el-Sheikh said on Sunday Mubarak was already in good health, and that there were no immediate plans to move him to Cairo any time soon.

"Everyone knows he is supposed to be transferred but we have no specific orders or instructions of when that would happen," a security source in Sharm El-Sheikh said.

"It is quite believable those in power do not want to rush the former president to trial right away."

Mubarak is accused of abusing power, embezzling funds and of being responsible for the deaths of some protesters.

He has denied any wrongdoing, but many Egyptians see him as a repressive autocrat whose lengthy rule benefited only a few, while perpetuating the grinding poverty of the majority of the country's 80 million people.

The ex-president is still under investigation, and judicial sources said it could take at least six months before a case is built up against him.

"Until now there are no official charges against Mubarak and he has not been referred to trial," said a judicial source at the Supreme Criminal Court in Cairo.

"Next week, Mubarak will listen and respond to witnesses and then it will be decided whether his 15-day detention period will be renewed to continue the investigation," the source said.

The current detention period ends on April 28.

Egypt's ruling generals have tried to show their commitment to taking to task the former administration, even though some senior officers believe prosecuting Mubarak would be a humiliation for a man they see as a war hero.

On Saturday, a court ordered the dissolution of Mubarak's political party, meeting a demand of the pro-democracy movement.

The National Democratic Party had dominated Egyptian politics since it was founded by Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar Sadat, in 1978 and for many in Egypt, it epitomised the graft and abuse of power that helped ignite the protests which forced Mubarak to quit in February.

The NDP headquarters were torched during the protests that led to Mubarak's ouster, and its supporters were blamed for some acts of thuggery against demonstrators. Nearly 400 people were killed in the protests that erupted in late January.

In a sign of the challenges facing the ruling military council, Muslims in southern Egypt protested for a third day on Sunday over the appointment of a Christian governor, saying his predecessor, also a Christian, had failed to solve their problems.

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