CAIRO // Ahmed Ezz, an Egyptian steel tycoon close to Hosni Mubarak's son Gamal, was yesterday sentenced by a Giza court to 37 years in prison and fined Dh1 billion for profiteering, money-laundering and squandering public funds.
The sentence was the harshest yet in more than two years of high profile court cases against members of the Mubarak regime and businessmen who flourished through their connections to politicians.
Ezz, 54, ran the country’s largest steel company, Ezz Steel, until his arrest on February 17, 2011, six days after Mubarak resigned from power. He was sentenced in late 2011 to 17 years in prison on separate charges of graft and money-laundering. Legal officials said he would serve the two sentences concurrently and not spend more than 25 years in prison overall. The verdict can be appealed.
He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing over the past two years and hired Qorvis, a lobbying firm based in Washington DC, to “promote democratisation in Egypt” and the need for a “transparent judiciary”, according to filings with the US department of justice.
“The allegations made against me are completely without foundation and are detrimental to my reputation and that of my family,” he wrote in an open letter on March 8, 2011. “I refute all of the allegations brought against me and I know that a fair and proper legal process would prove my innocence.”
The precipitous rise of Ezz Steel into the country’s most powerful steel company was controversial in Egypt, even before the uprising, because of allegations that the company was engaging in monopolistic behaviour. However, an investigation by the Egyptian Competition Authority in 2009 ruled that it had not broken antitrust laws.
It was his ties to Gamal Mubarak, the former president’s younger son, who was thought to be planning presidential bid to take over from his father, and Ezz’s role in coordinating the now-banned National Democratic Party’s 2010 parliamentary campaign that made him into a symbol of corruption in Egypt. The 2010 elections were marred by allegations of rigging and voter intimidation.
In the days before Mubarak’s resignation, Ezz was targeted by protesters in Tahrir Square and around the country with the same venom as the regime itself. His name became synonymous with the marriage of political power and business interests that characterised the latter years of Mubarak’s rule.
The Giza court found Ezz guilty of illegally earning multimillion in illicit business deals involving his companies. The court in Giza said he was aided between 1999 and 2001 by a former minister of industry, Ibrahim Mohammadein, who was also sentenced yesterday to one year in prison with a suspended sentence and fined nearly 690 million Egyptian pounds.