x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Egypt's corruption investigators zoom in on tycoon's private jet sale

Hussein Salem, who has been convicted in several criminal cases for obtaining wealth through corrupt affiliations with the Mubarak regime, tried to quietly sell off his assets.

Hussein Salem, 78, right, and his son, Khaled, in what appears to be Hussein’s private jet. Authorities believe he has improperly sold and hidden assets, including a Falcon 2000EX aircraft, to avoid having to hand them over.
Hussein Salem, 78, right, and his son, Khaled, in what appears to be Hussein’s private jet. Authorities believe he has improperly sold and hidden assets, including a Falcon 2000EX aircraft, to avoid having to hand them over.

CAIRO // Egypt's corruption investigators are examining the sale of a private jet in 2011 by a business tycoon tied to the regime of Hosni Mubarak as part of a money-laundering investigation, officials say.

Hussein Salem was in 2011 and 2012 convicted in absentia in several criminal cases by Egyptian courts for obtaining wealth through corrupt affiliations with members of the regime and criminally profiteering at the expense of the Egyptian state.

Investigators believe that after fleeing Egypt last year, just days before Mubarak stepped down, Salem immediately began liquidating his global holdings and hiding his wealth in complex offshore accounts and companies that shroud ownership in secrecy.

Egypt is endeavouring to prove that the jet-setting, cigar smoking 78-year-old, who rose from lowly bureaucrat to influential businessman during Mubarak's rule, has improperly sold and hidden assets to avoid having to hand them over to Egyptian authorities.

After The National uncovered details of the sale of another private jet belonging to a company controlled by Salem, Egypt's illicit gains authority said last week it was beginning a new investigation into the ownership of a Falcon 2000EX aircraft.

"We are now investigating the sale of this plane," Ahmed Saad, a senior counsellor at the Illicit Gains Authority, told The National last week. "We are looking closely at all of his actions, especially after the Public Prosecution first filed a case against him last year."

Another of Salem's private jets, a Cessna 680 Citation Sovereign is impounded at Cairo airport.

The Falcon 2000EX now under investigation, which bore the registration G-EDHY, originally belonged to Victoria Aviation in the offshore tax haven of Guernsey, in the UK.

Court documents in Egypt have identified Victoria Aviation as belonging to Salem.

Such planes retail for more than US$20 million (Dh73m) when bought new.

Documents obtained from the Guernsey Company registry identify a lawyer associated with many of Salem's offshore companies as a director.

The jet's history is now being examined closely because of its sale less than three months after the Egyptian public prosecutor indicted Mubarak, his two sons and Salem on corruption charges in May 2011. It was sold to Ali Evsen, a Turkish businessman with a host of ties to Salem that are under investigation by Egyptian authorities.

His company, the Evsen Group, is based in Azerbaijan. Salem and Mr Evsen were arrested in Spain by Spanish police, on Spanish charges of money-laundering in Spain.

Salem has sought asylum in Spain while there are also Egyptian charges against Mr Evsen.

A photo taken by a plane watcher - one of thousands of amateur photographers who take pictures of planes as they land in airports across the world and post them to websites - in Ireland on November 2011, shows the name "Evsen" next to the door. Its registration after the sale by Victoria Aviation in July was ZA-EVA, which means it was headquartered in Albania where Mr Evsen formerly owned Albanian Airlines.

Records show the plane was sold by Evsen Group on November, 17, 2011, to an unidentified buyer in the US.

Mr Saad, a senior counsellor at the illicit gains authority in Egypt, said investigators were now examining the transaction as part of its wider investigation into allegations of money laundering by Salem. Any sale of property or transfer of asset after the indictment of Salem in 2011 is considered by Egyptian investigators as an attempt to hide wealth from the Egyptian government.

Their investigations into allegations of money laundering have homed in on the nexus of connections between Salem and Mr Evsen.

During the past year and a half, investigators closely examining several transactions between Salem and Mr Evsen.

Their relationship goes back to 2008 when Salem sold his stake in East Mediterranean Gas Company to Mr Evsen for an undisclosed price. In June 2012, a criminal court sentenced a former oil minister, five of his deputies and Salem on charges of "hurting the country's interest" and "enabling others to make financial gains" related to EMG. They received varying prison sentences and were together fined $2.1 billion.

A Panama-registered company, Clelia Assets Corporation, also had its directorships transferred from the names of Salem's two adult children, Khaled and Magda, to two executives of the Evsen Group in Azerbaijan after Salem's indictment in 2011, according to records in Panama.

Salem is under house arrest in Spain and Mr Evsen is reportedly in Spain, but his exact status is not known.

bhope@thenational.ae

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