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Steel magnate and former Mubarak official sentenced in Egypt

The 10-year prison terms and combined $111-million fine for Egypt steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz and Amr Assal, a former top industries official, strike at the cronyism under President Hosni Mubarak.

September 15, 2011|By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times
  • Steel magnate Ahmed Ezz, seen here in a defendant's cage in a Cairo court in February, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined millions of dollars on corruption charges. He was a confidant of Gamal Mubarak, son of Egypt's toppled president.
Steel magnate Ahmed Ezz, seen here in a defendant's cage in a Cairo… (EPA )

Reporting from Cairo — An Egyptian court Thursday sentenced a steel magnate and a former top industries official to 10 years in prison each and fined them a combined $111 million on charges stemming from the corruption that defined the era of toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

The sentences handed to steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz, a confidant of Mubarak's son Gamal, and Amr Assal, deposed chairman of the country's Industrial Development Authority, struck at the core of businessmen and officials who made fortunes under Mubarak's rule. The penalties indicate what may await Gamal Mubarak and his brother, Alaa, both of whom are charged with graft and corruption.

Ezz, a former board member of Ezz Steel, was once untouchable. He was a ranking member of the then-ruling National Democratic Party and symbolized how for decades public policy was bent toward enriching those close to power.

He was accused of cornering the Egyptian steel market by illegally manipulating a state-owned company that supplied low-cost materials to his private firm.

The court also sentenced former Trade Minister Rashid Mohamed Rashid, who has reportedly fled the country, to 15 years in prison and a $237-million fine. Rashid allowed Ezz to dominate the steel market by granting him licenses and contracts without holding public bids.

Gamal Mubarak and Ezz were key architects of Egypt's privatization drive, which was credited for economic growth but also rife with cronyism. While Ezz and others in the then-ruling party profited, more than 40% of Egyptians lived on less than $2 a day.

In the early days of last winter's revolution, protesters turned their anger on Ezz, looting and burning one of his properties in Cairo. He received his sentence Thursday dressed in prison whites and standing in a defendant's cage in the courtroom. His company's stock dropped in value by nearly 9% on the news.

Ezz's sentencing comes as Egyptians await the outcome of the trial of Hosni Mubarak and his sons. The former president is charged with complicity to commit murders in the deaths of hundreds of protesters. Alaa and Gamal, who once was a leading contender to succeed his father, face charges in connection with alleged real estate corruption.

The Egyptian newspaper Al Masry al Youm reported that Hosni Mubarak told the court Thursday: "I want to clarify that the president's work is regulated by the constitution, and that he cannot order the shooting of demonstrators."

jeffrey.fleishman@latimes.com

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