The Swiss Federal Council lifted the freeze on the assets of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak following the end of the mutual legal assistance between Egypt and Switzerland.
The agreement between the two governments, which had been renewed on December of each year and which is the typical arrangement between the Swiss government and other governments that request that retrieval of illicit money deposited in Swiss banks, was terminated by Swiss authorities. This decision brought back to the forefront an issue that had for quite a while preoccupied Egyptians following the president’s ouster, especially that getting that money back became at a certain time one of the goals of the 2011 revolution. Now that the assets are unfrozen, a question about the timing seems inevitable.
Before speculating over what would happen to the money, it is important to note that the unfrozen amount is the not the same as the one frozen in 2011 for the amount was reduced from 590 million Swiss francs to 430 million Swiss francs as a result of dropping the names of several individuals linked to the frozen assets whether because they were acquitted of the charges they faced or struck reconciliation agreements with Egyptian authorities. “After almost seven years since the freeze was imposed in 2011 and despite the joint efforts undertaken, the cooperation between the two countries has failed to produce the anticipated results,” said the statement issued by the Federal Council to justify ending the agreement, adding that lifting the freeze does not mean that the assets will be released right away.
Tunisian ex-leader’s assets
“They remain sequestered within the framework of criminal proceedings in Switzerland being conducted by the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland for the purpose of determining whether or not their origin is licit.” The statement also explained why the same was not applied to former Tunisian President Zein al-Abedin Bin Ali’s assets, which amount to 56 million Swiss francs and whose freeze was renewed for another year. Unlike Egypt, judicial authorities in Tunisia are still proceeding with their cases against Bin Ali and his associates, which means court rulings can determine that the origin of these assets is illicit. “The Federal Council's decision to extend the freeze on the assets is warranted because this objective has not yet been fully met while the legal conditions for its extension remain valid. This one-year extension is expected to yield tangible progress in pending proceedings and increase the likelihood of the assets being returned to the country of origin.”
Mubarak’s lawyer Farid al-Deeb issued a statement following the Federal Council’s decision to underline that freezing the assets was in the first place a precautionary procedure on the part of the Swiss authorities and was not based on any proof that this money was obtained illicitly. “The list of people linked to the frozen assets included Mubarak’s name even though there was no proof that he personally owned any assets abroad,” said Deed. “And I always made sure to stress throughout my defense that he did not own any and that it was all the result of a media campaign that alleged so.” Deeb referred to a part of the Swiss Federal Council statement which clarified that not every person whose name is listed in the ordinance on frozen assets does necessarily own assets in Switzerland and that this applies to Mubarak.
According to journalist Mohamed al-Masry, around 300 million Swiss francs of the frozen 430 million actually belong to Mubarak’s sons Alaa and Gamal, in reference to the fact that Mubarak’s name was added to the list not because he personally owned money, but rather because of his role in facilitating the illicit acquisition and smuggling of his sons’ money. “The Swiss prosecutor general will now look into the origins of the money and if nothing proves they were obtained illicitly, the money will be released,” he wrote. Masry quoted professor of international law Ibrahim Ahmed Ibrahim as saying that in this case within two years, all the names of the list will get the money back.
When asked why the Federal Council decided not to renew the freeze any longer, expert on international law Hassan Omar said that Switzerland gave Egypt more than one opportunity to take decisive steps, but nothing happened.
“Egypt was supposed to submit court rulings which prove that individuals linked to the frozen assets were found guilty of corruption, especially that Egypt had signed the anti- money laundering agreement a long time before the 2011 uprising,” he said. “According to this agreement, money that officials get through illicit means or from unknown sources and smuggle abroad are to be frozen and those officials should be tried for corruption.” However, Omar added, no court ruling were issued against the officials linked to the frozen money and no documents to prove their corruption were submitted to the Swiss government, which for the Swiss meant that no progress was being made so the agreement was terminated.
Economic analyst Mustafa Abdel Salam blames the Egyptian government for wasting the opportunity to retrieve the frozen the money by not providing the necessary documents needed by the Swiss. “The Egyptian government could have proven that this money was produced through illicit means, which would mean that they belong to the Egyptian people,” he wrote.
“For example, it was easy to prove that Mubarak’s monthly salary did not exceed $808 according to official documents, therefore he couldn’t have accumulated all this wealth through licit means.” Abdel Salam added that the government could have also sent copies of all court rulings issued against Mubarak and his two sons Alaa and Gamal and which prove they were found guilty in corruption charges and could have proven that Mubarak and his aides made Egypt lose billions of dollars over the years when he decided to sell natural gas to Israel for the cheapest of prices. “The Swiss government’s decision is indicative of lack of cooperation on the part of the Egyptian government, especially that the same decision was not made with bin Ali’s money for example,” he added.
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