This site respects your privacy. GAP will not record your IP address or browser information. A detailed privacy statement can be found here.
Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

New Egyptian Law May Provide Former World Bank Managing Director Mohieldin the Exit He Needs

Michael Termini, February 19, 2013

Last weekend, Egypt’s upper house of Parliament formally sanctioned a “reconcilement law” which, according to the head of the justice ministry’s legislative committee, Sherif Omar, is designed to “encourage businessmen to settle their financial disputes,” even if they previously fled the country to escape conviction for corruption. The new law will provide retrials for individuals convicted of financial crimes, and it has many supporters. One of them is Omar, who believes that this quasi-amnesty will “lead dozens of businessmen to return to Egypt.” A second justice ministry official asserts that the law will inject much-needed capital back into the economy.

Nonetheless, multiple civil society groups publicly oppose the measure – with good reason. While the law requires a committee headed by the justice minister to oversee the new process, this set up, as raised last week by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), may actually prevent legitimate judicial supervision by allowing the executive branch sole oversight. EIPR has a point                                                      and the organization captured the problem perfectly:

"The committee could easily be politicized and pave the way for the return of Mubarak-era officials."

That is exactly what we must watch for now.

The Ahram Online article cited above names several former Mubarak-era ministers tried for profiteering and financial corruption who may return home. For us, the most notable fugitive mentioned is former Minister of Trade Rachid Mohamed Rachid. As detailed in our year-and-a-half long investigation into the role former Minister of Investment Mahmoud Mohieldin played in at least three suspicious (and potentially criminal) privatization transactions (two of which connect Mohieldin to Rachid), Rachid fled Egypt in early 2011. He was tried in absentia, convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling public funds and profiteering. Subsequently, he was charged in absentia yet again and sentenced to an additional fifteen years for squandering public funds.

Rachid, however, is not the only person of interest connected to Mohieldin, who fled Egypt after the fall of the Mubarak regime and who may now be booking a first class seat on a flight back to Cairo. Former Minister of Finance Yousef Boutros Ghali also fled the country and was sentenced to prison in absentia for thirty years for abuse of public assets and profiteering. The connections between these three are important and speak directly to EIPR’s concerns. Rachid, Boutros Ghali and Mohieldin helped undertake the privatization process in Egypt, including the sale of the storied state-owned department store chain Omar Effendi (OE). Gamal Mubarak (son of Hosni Mubarak and former National Democratic Party Deputy Secretary General), who himself is the subject of multiple investigations for corruption and similar financial crimes, led the team to sell OE to a foreign investor at less than half of the chain's actual value – leaving over 2,000 workers unemployed and costing the treasury 600 million Egyptian pounds. Using evidence from a whistleblower’s disclosure and an official investigation, the Administrative Court in Cairo annulled the sale of OE for irregularities in 2011.

During the privatization process, whistleblower Yahia Hussein Abdel-Hadi alleged that the valuation committee on which he served was pressured by Mohieldin and this team of ministers to sell the state-owned asset for a fraction of its worth. Rachid and Boutrous Ghali both fled the country to avoid answering for these and other crimes. For his part, Mohieldin was never charged. On the contrary, he left Egypt in September 2010 to take a position as a Managing Director at the World Bank in Washington, DC. He secured a high-level sinecure reporting directly to Robert Zoellick, President of the Bank. Zoellick then made frequent pronouncements about the Bank’s anti-corruption agenda, on the one hand, while applauding Mohieldin’s career in Egyptian government on the other and describing him as “tireless reformer” and “an outstanding young leader.” In fact, Mohieldin fled the country just like his confederates – but not to avoid formal charges, as he has never been formally investigated for the OE deal or any of the other potentially criminal transactions we have tracked. Instead, Mohiedin remains at the World Bank, unquestioned, despite our repeated attempts to secure his financial disclosure statements.

Originally, Mohieldin served as Managing Director, the number two position at the World Bank. During the past year, however, he has consistently lost authority.  Most notably he lost his responsibility for procurement, as well as for the Bank’s internal justice system. An internal document secured by GAP last December showed that Mohieldin was quietly sidelined and named Special Envoy on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a back-handed maneuver that reveals the low priority the Bank assigns to the MDGs.

In light of his demotion and marginalization at the World Bank, the fact that Mohieldin need no longer fear being arrested, should he return home, is significant. With little to do at the Bank, and the path clear for both amnesty and lucrative new business deals with old Cairo cronies, we can probably expect this outstanding young leader to surface once again, hand-in-hand with Rachid and Boutros Ghali in Egypt.

More to come.

Michael Termini is International Officer for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.