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Former Mubarak officials could buy freedom under amended law

By Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, For CNN
March 16, 2012 -- Updated 0355 GMT (1155 HKT)
Egyptian steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz was sentenced to 10 years in prison in September for corruption.
Egyptian steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz was sentenced to 10 years in prison in September for corruption.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • An amended law would allow imprisoned regime members to make restitution
  • The former officials would then be released without trial or penalty
  • The law has caused controversy in Egypt

Cairo, Egypt (CNN) -- Egypt's government is considering financial offers made by imprisoned members of former President Hosni Mubarak's regime to resolve cases of corruption and illegal profiteering brought against them, the Egyptian finance minister said this week.

If the proposed deals are accepted, the prisoners -- including steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz, former tourism minister Zoheir Garana and former housing minister Ahmed Maghraby -- would be freed without penalties or trials.

Ezz was sentenced to 10 years in prison in September for corruption and fined the equivalent of about $11 million. Garana's lawyers have appealed his five-year prison sentence on corruption and embezzlement charges based on the country's amended investment law. Maghraby was sentenced to five years in prison in May for an illegal land deal.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Egypt's ruling military council, amended the country's investment law on January 3, 2012, two weeks before the first session of parliament.

The amendment allows the suspects in graft, embezzlement and corruption cases to pay back the amount of illegal finances noted in the case at the time the crime was committed using assets, real estate, cash, or land as a way of reconciliation in return for dropping the charges.

The government is working to locate and retrieve money obtained and "smuggled" abroad illegally by officials including Mubarak, his sons and former members of his regime, as well as quantify it, Finance Minister Mumtaz Al Saeed said in a news conference.

"We are pursing the money through judicial channels and by governmental efforts as we have requested from many countries the retrieval of funds, but these issues take time and legal procedures must be followed," he said.

The United Arab Emirates and Switzerland are two of the countries that have received the money, according to Al Saeed.

Prime Minister Kamal Al Ganzoury leads a committee in charge of retrieving the money, believed to be in the billions.

The government has not accepted the offers made by the former Mubarak officials, and the issue is still being studied by the government, Al Saeed said after meeting with Al Ganzoury.

The amendment to the investment law infuriated the Egyptian people, including lawyers and Islamists dominating the parliament.

Khaled Abu Bakr, a civil rights lawyer, was among several attorneys submitting a memo to Egypt's general prosecutor and the parliament calling for a review of the law.

"I am totally against this law issued by a military decree days before parliament is convened and I have officially requested an immediate freeze to the negotiations," Abu Bakr told CNN. "If the government accepts then the suspect is immediately freed with no trial or penalties."

Both the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafi-led Nour Party, which holds a majority of parliament seats, also issued statements opposing the release of former Mubarak officials under the amendment.

Activist Hala Mahmoud considers the law a farce and accuses the ruling Supreme Council of orchestrating new laws to their benefit.

"I am sure members of the ruling council have mutual interests with those thieves behind bars, so they came up with this decree that defies the constitution to save themselves," Mahmoud said. "If it passes, then why don't they allow drug dealers to do the same? How is that different?"

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