CAIRO // Ahmed Shafiq, the candidate who lost to Mohammed Morsi in Egypt's presidential elections in June, is to be be referred to a criminal court on corruption charges related to land deals.
He is accused of illegally selling discounted plots of state-owned land during the 1990s to the sons of the former president, Hosni Mubarak.
He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the case, which emerged in May after Essam Sultan, a leader of the Islamist Wasat Party and a member of parliament, filed a complaint with the public prosecution office.
He accused Mr Shafiq, an ex-air force chief, of exploiting his former position as head of the Young Air Force Officers Association in the land deals.
After losing the election, Mr Shafiq and his family flew to the UAE for what he called "security reasons". They have not returned to Egypt since.
Mr Shafiq was placed on a watch list by the Egyptian government and has been barred from travel using his Egyptian passport since August. Last month, he told Sky News Arabia from Dubai that "the decision to place me on a watch list is political ... I will return to Egypt when it is suitable for me to do so".
The UAE and Egypt have no extradition treaty, which may complicate efforts to force Mr Shafiq to return to Egypt to stand trial.
Several other members of the Mubarak government have refused to return to Egypt to face criminal charges, including Rachid Mohamed Rachid, the former minister of trade and industry, and Youssef Boutros Ghali, the former minister of finance. Both have been convicted of crimes in absentia and sentenced to prison terms.
Mubarak's sons, Gamal and Alaa, and four other officials are also expected to be charged in the case. The Mubarak sons are already in an Egyptian prison pending a separate corruption and insider trading case relating to the sale of a bank.
The state-run Al Ahram newspaper said yesterday that the 40,000 acres of land Mr Shafiq allegedly sold to the Mubarak sons was located in the Bitter Lakes region of Ismailia, a city on the Suez Canal. The land had belonged to an association related to military pilots and was allegedly sold at a fraction of its value.
Before the presidential elections, Mr Shafiq denied the charges. He said he was not the head of the Young Air Force Officers Association when the Mubarak sons bought the land in 1991. He was appointed in 1992 and only "notarised" the sale in 1993, he said.
Mr Shafiq was a polarising candidate for the presidency because of his resemblance to the strong-armed, military presidents that had dominated Egypt since the 1952 Free Officers' revolution that overturned the monarchy.
Mr Shafiq was a former commander of the air force, like Mubarak, and was appointed by him as his last prime minister during the protests last year.
He narrowly lost the presidential race, with 48.27 per cent of the vote, after being boosted in part by voters who feared the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.
* With additional reporting by Reuters