Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Egypt: Vince Cable calls for international action to locate Mubarak billions

Egypt: Vince Cable calls for international action to locate Mubarak billions
Vince Cable, the British business secretary, has called for international action to locate billions of dollars thought to have been secreted out of Egypt by Hosni Mubarak, the country's ousted dictator
By Praveen Swami, and Richard Spencer in Cairo 8:30PM GMT 13 Feb 2011

The Foreign Office said Britain could only act against Mr Mubarak's assets in response to a formal request from Egypt's government, the European Union, or the United Nations.

The Egyptian authorities have so far made no such approach.

"There has to be a request made for any of this action to take place," said Alistair Burt, foreign office minister. "There are things that can be done, but so far there has not been a request made and therefore it is not possible to speculate."

On Sunday night it was announced that a total of 43 people were now subject to orders freezing their assets and banning them from leaving the country. They are understood to include members of the Mubarak family.

"There clearly needs to be a concerted international action on this," Mr Cable said, though he said he had no confirmation there were still Mubarak funds in the UK. "I think it would be great for the reputation for the City of London if those accounts were frozen now."

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The Serious Fraud Office is already investigating financial entities linked to Mr Mubarak's sons, Gamal and Alaa. Gamal Mubarak began his business empire from a home in Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, from where he launched a private equity fund.

The sons, along with their mother, Suzanne Mubarak, who is half-Welsh, are widely thought in Egypt to have British passports.

Last week, Switzerland froze assets suspected to belong to Mr Mubarak, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia's ousted president, and those of Laureng Gbago, the Ivory Coast despot.

Intelligence sources said that Mr Mubarak used his last days in office to move assets out of the country, to add to a family fortune believed to include property around the world, including London.

The former president remained at a private villa in the Red Sea resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh, where he is understood to have been joined by his family, including some members who returned from abroad.

A number of Gulf countries are preparing to offer him asylum, though the United Arab Emirates was forced to issue a statement denying he was already on his way to Sharjah.

A source said he would be welcomed in the UAE if he chose to go there, but an informed report in Cairo said he was most likely first to head to Oman, where Sultan Qaboos has offered him use of a palace.

Mr Mubarak himself has insisted he will die on Egyptian soil, and is said to have told his entourage of advisers and security officers: "I don't want it to be said Hosni Mubarak ran away like Ben Ali."

However, while the Supreme Military Council is unlikely to put him on trial, there have been many calls for a civilian government to do so.

"The Supreme Military Council is full of people who are loyal to Mubarak," said Hisham Batawissi, a former Supreme Court vice-president. "They are friends - they cannot put him on trial. But the new authorities might well do so."

Mr Mubarak is in need of regular medical treatment, which he has undergone in Germany, and this may provide a convenient face-saving exit for all sides.

According to El-Shorouk newspaper, Mr Mubarak is said by those around him to be grief-stricken at his ejection from power, sitting biting his lips and shaking his head in incomprehension.

"He is convinced that he doesn't deserve what happened, and there are some people around him telling him that 'Tomorrow people will cry in memory of your time in office, and history will give you justice'," a source told the newspaper.

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