Now that Egypt’s longtime president has stepped down, attention turns to the wealth he allegedly piled up over three decades in power, the UK’s Daily Telegraph reports.
According to reports, Mubarak’s family fortune could be as high as $70 billion dollars, much of it in Swiss banks or tied up in real estate in London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.
Mr Mubarak, his wife and two sons have been able accumulate wealth through government contracts and a number of business partnerships with foreigners. Egyptian law requires that foreigners give a local business partner a 51 per cent stake in most ventures.
The $70 billion fortune would put the 82-year-old Hosni Mubarak comfortably ahead of Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim Helu, worth about $54 billion dollars, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the richest American with $53 billion dollars.
However, in the knowledge his downfall was imminent, Mr Mubarak is understood to have attempted to place his assets out of reach of potential investigators.
Swiss authorities announced they were freezing any assets Mubarak and his family may hold in the country’s banks while pressure was growing for the UK to do the same.
Mr Mubarak has strong connections to London and it is thought many millions of pounds are stashed in the UK. But a senior Western intelligence source claimed that Mubarak had begun moving his fortune in recent weeks.
“We’re aware of some urgent conversations within the Mubarak family about how to save these assets,” said the source, “And we think their financial advisers have moved some of the money around. If he had real money in Zurich, it may be gone by now.”
According to reports, the former president was at his family villa in the resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh. There were unconfirmed reports that he was effectively under house arrest, as the focus of protesters moved from toppling the hated ruler to put him on trial for corruption.
“If we can get back some of the billions stolen, I will be satisfied with our revolution,” one 29-year-old Egyptian told The Washington Post.
During the protests last week, former deputy foreign minister Ibrahim Yousri and 20 lawyers petitioned Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, Egypt’s prosecutor general, to put Mr Mubarak and his family on trial for stealing state wealth.
Crowds in Tahrir Square were yesterday hotly debating what to do with the disgraced former president, as protesters assembled themselves into clean-up squads to remove rubbish and cranes took away wrecked vehicles.
“I don’t think they should put him on trial – he did keep our country out of wars. But they should take his money, it is not his,” said 16-year-old student Manar Louay.
“Not only should Mubarak be prosecuted, all the other thieves should be as well,” said 60-year-old driver Mohamed El Beblawy.
Fatma Samy Ahmed, 50, who was part of the clean-up operation, said: “He should be executed like Saddam Hussein. Half of the population lived in poverty, while Mubarak and those around him lived in heaven.”
The intelligence source suggested that 82-year-old Mubarak may have learnt the lesson of his fellow dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the former president of Tunisia, who was forced with his family into a hasty exile in Saudi Arabia while Swiss authorities froze the family’s bank accounts.
The Mubaraks are understood to have wanted to shift assets to Gulf states where they have considerable investments already – and, crucially, friendly relations. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have frequently been mentioned as likely final destinations for Mr Mubarak and possibly his family.
Intelligence sources indicate that the Mubarak fortune may be most easily traced via the business dealings of his 47-year-old son, Gamal. He once lived in a six-storey house in Belgravia, London and worked in banking before setting up an investment and consulting firm in London. He resigned as a director of the company 10 years ago.
Arwa Hassan, a Middle East specialist for the anti-corruption group Transparency International, said Gamal appeared to be at the centre of the Mubarak family’s finances.
“It was really common for Gamal Mubarak to approach a successful business and say, make me a partner in your business. I’ve heard this from various sources. I don’t think it was a secret,” she said.
Dealing with the former president will present a major challenge to Egypt’s first real democratic government, which is expected to be formed after elections.
On Saturday night the army was in charge, hugely supported by the people after promising to hand over power as soon as possible. The army was quick to promise to honour all existing treaties including the crucial Camp David Accord with Israel.
Most Egyptians spent yesterday celebrating their new freedom. Hundreds of thousands filed through Tahrir Square, smiling soldiers let children climb onto, and even into, their tanks, and a sea of Egyptian flags waved over the heads of the crowd.
“A month ago people were too scared to criticise him in public. Now we have won our freedom and we are proud to be Egyptian,” said 21-year-old student Dina Sadek. [via The Telegraph (UK), The Week and Sydney Morning Herald]