An employee counts money at an exchange office in downtown Cairo (Photo credit: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)
CAIRO - 10 August 2018: The Administrative Control Authority (ACA) – the regulatory body responsible for enforcing laws and regulations within state bodies – has ordered the arrest of numerous officials over the last two years, within the framework of the leadership’s fight against corruption.
President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has always stressed on applying strict measures within the government institutions to crack down any violation. He hailed the role played by the ACA in different occasions.
1) Aug. 7, 2018: Head of Giza’s Al-Haram district
Major General Ibrahim Abdel Aaty, head of Giza’s Al-Haram district was detained for four days after security forces arrested him on Tuesday over accusations of receiving bribes from three construction companies.
According to preliminary investigation, Abdel Aaty negotiated with the three companies to receive a bribe consisting of three apartments, bank cheques besides an amount of money, according to the state-owned Al-Ahram. He received LE 700,000, according to the investigation.
Abdel Aaty was caught red-handed after the prosecution carried out legal procedures that allowed the police to record some of his negotiations with the companies, according to the investigation.
The district head received a bribe from the three companies to halt legal procedures that had to be carried out against some of the buildings that violate the law in al-Haram district, according to the investigation. The form of violation was not yet known by Egypt Today.
The accused major general denied all accusations. The prosecution ordered obtaining Abdel Aaty’s voiceprint as he also denies the recordings.
The prosecution listened to the representatives of the three construction companies, and formally accused Abdel Aaty of receiving bribes, misusing his authority and deliberately failing to perform his duties.
2) July 9, 2018: Head of the Customs Authority
Former Head of the Customs Authority Gamal Abdel Azim was arrested over accusations of receiving a financial bribe of LE 1 million from an importer of textiles in exchange for the termination of customs clearance procedures for certain imported goods.
On Aug. 7, Minister of Finance Mohmed Ma’it decided to appoint Kamal Hassan Negm as head of the Customs Authority.
The minister handed the new head his appointment decision in the presence of Deputy Minister of Finance of the Treasury Ihab Abu Aish, Assistant Minister for Revenue Amr al-Khouly, and Advisor to the Minister of Finance for Customs Affairs and former Head of the Authority Magdy Abdel Aziz.
The minister emphasized the important role played by customs officials in protecting citizens’ health, security and stability, stressing that they also play a role in protecting the country from drugs, crackers and harmful and illegal practices.
Negm was the head of the Central Administration of the Eastern Province in the customs operations sector.
3) July 18, 2018: Customs officer at Safaga
A customs officer at Safaga port was arrested in July by the ACA on counts of smuggling large quantities of customs-free perfume, cigarettes and appliances.
The investigation revealed that the defendant attempted to get the above mentioned goods through the customs department using his private car after he purchased them from the duty free.
During the investigations, the defendant admitted committing the offence and was referred to the prosecution.
4) May 30, 2018: Head of FIHC, major officials
The ACA ordered in May the detention of a number of high-profile officials over charges of corruption.
Egypt’s Attorney General Nabil Sadek referred on May 30 four officials to the court over receiving LE $2 million ($111,763.68) in bribes for accepting a tender bid from a commodities supply company.
The detained officials include the chairperson of the Food Industries Holding Company (FIHC), and his deputy, the Ministry of Supply’s spokesperson, and the supply minister advisor for communicating with Parliament.
5) May 5, 2018: Finance, Irrigation officials
The ACA arrested in May four officials from the Ministry of Finance over bribes worth around LE 500 million ($28.4 million).
The defendants are accused of taking bribes from the owners of private companies to facilitate the transfer of financial rights for their companies.
The ACA also arrested a female official from the Ministry of Irrigation over accusations of taking LE 30,000 as a bribe from the owner of a ship berth to facilitate obtaining the license.
At the same time, the ACA arrested several officials from many banks around the state over accusations of taking more than LE 11 million in bribes to facilitate credit procedures and loans for owners of major companies.
Also, the security forces arrested a person for impersonating an official in one of the supervisory authorities over accusations of taking LE 60,000 as a bribe from the owner of a property, claiming his ability to postpone the implementation of the decision to remove the property.
Menoufia Governor Hisham Abdel Baset and two businessmen were arrested in January after the ACA managed to record phone calls by the governor proving he agreed to take LE 2 million as a bribe in return for land licenses.
The two businessmen admitted bribing the Menoufia governor in return for assigning the number of projects carried out by the province to a company owned by one of the accused, and facilitate the receipt of works and the speed of disbursement of financial dues.
According to security sources, the governor was under the ACA’s surveillance during the last period until he was detected to be involved in a number of corruption cases. The ACA then referred the governor to the public prosecution for investigation.
The first trial session for Abdel Baset and the two businessmen was held on June 9 by the Giza Criminal Court.
7) December 2017: Numerous corruption and bribery attempts foiled
The ACA succeeded in foiling several attempted corruption and bribery cases in December, one estimated to be worth LE 3 billion ($168 million) and another worth LE 77 million ($4.3 million) respectively, according to official statements.
The accusations targeted lawyers, officials, executive directors and heads of government institutions.
According to the statements, the ACA arrested a lawyer offering a bribe up to LE 100,000, along with a piece of land estimated to be worth LE 2 million, to the inspector of the Alexandria Survey Authority Directorate in order to deliver a space of land to him without mentioning the state’s ownership over parts of it.
Also, another evaluation general director affiliated with the Governmental Services Authority was arrested for receiving a bribe up to LE 180,000 from a scrap dealer in exchange for reducing the ton’s price from LE 6,000 to LE 4,000, which would affect the state's treasury by about LE 1.5 million ($83,934).
The ACA also managed to target a group of criminals in Alexandria who were aiming to take over several pieces of land estimated at LE 1.4 billion using forged contracts and papers.
Other criminals in several governorates were reported to be arrested for similar cases in Port Said, Ismailia, Suez, Luxor and Aswan.
In Suez, a former deputy director of housing and utilities was arrested for forging papers for real estate owners, enabling them to prove the payment of their due fees without actually paying anything to the state.
According to the ACA papers, this case only caused the state’s treasury to lose about LE 1 million.
8) Aug. 30, 2017: Customs Authority auditor
Security bodies arrested in August 2017, the Ministry of Finance Customs Authority auditor on charges of offering an official in the same authority a bribe of LE 2.5 million ($139,891) to facilitate seizing LE 47 million ($2.66 million) from its 2015/2016 fiscal year budget.
The budget was not used and was moved as payable accounts.
The security authorities detected the perpetrators’ manipulations to transfer the seized money to another bank account before it was divided amongst the three persons involved, including the account’s owner.
Earlier in the same month in Alexandria, the head of Al Raml's Court of Misdemeanors was arrested while receiving a bribe in a coffee shop. In a separate incident, the combating tax evasion head in Alexandria was also arrested after being accused of receiving a bribe estimated at LE 2 million from beach renters in North Coast.
9) Aug. 27, 2017: Deputy Governor of Alexandria
Security forces arrested deputy governor of Alexandria Souad al-Kholy in August in the General Office of Alexandria Governorate, with charges including bribery, damage of public money and making profit.
Investigations confirmed that the deputy has received money, material gifts and gold jewelry worth more than LE 1 million ($56,484) from businessmen in return for exploiting her powers, which caused losses in public money worth about LE 10 million.
On Thursday, Alexandria Governor Mohamed Soltan attended Kholy’s seventh trial session over accusations of bribery. Kholy’s trial was postponed to Sept. 23.
10) March 2017: Former Helwan governor
Former Helwan governor Hazem el-Qowaidi was arrested in March 2017 over accusations of receiving a bribe to illegally transfer government-owned land in Maadi to a private company.
He was also accused of receiving a Mercedes worth LE 1 million in return for the illegal transfer of an 800-square-meter land plot in Southern Cairo to a car company.
In February 2018, Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Qowaidi to five years in prison and a fine of LE 50,000 over receiving bribes during his office.
11) Jan. 20, 2017: A finance minister advisor
An advisor for the finance minister along with two other suspects were detained in January 2017 over accusations of receiving bribery to change the price of a land that was allocated to a touristic resort, according to media reports.
The accused included the Minister’s Deputy Tarek Farag Abdel Wahab; CEO of Start Light Travel Co. Mahmoud Fakhrani al-Razi; Tax Authority official Amal Abdel Wahab; and accountant Gamal Mahamoud Baraka.
According to the initial investigations carried out by Homeland Prosecution, the minister’s deputy asked the CEO for LE 4 million ($221,000) as a bribe to facilitate the measures required for the land. All of the people charged confessed to the crime, according to the investigations.
In January 2018, the advisor was sentenced to life imprisonment (25 years in prison) and a fine of LE 100,000 ($5,596). The two other suspects were acquitted of charges.
Earlier efforts by ACA
The ACA’s efforts were very fruitful in the last years and prosecuted several high-profile cases which led to a noticeable decline in corruption incidents.
In April 2016, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced former Agriculture Minister Salah el-Din Mahmoud Helal and his office manager to 10 years in prison each on corruption charges.
The prosecution said in a court session that Helal and his office manager had accepted bribes, including a luxury home, membership at an exclusive sports club, clothing from high-end fashion stores and mobile phones.
In January 2017, former State Council Secretary-General Wael Shalaby reportedly committed suicide while in custody after being arrested for alleged corruption.
This incident came days after a procurement manager at the State Council, Gamal al-Laban, was arrested and charged with receiving bribes worth millions of Egyptian pounds.
President Sisi, during the Egyptian Family Iftar ceremony held earlier in June, affirmed that the regulatory institutions have been endorsed, saying that the state will not tolerate violations and will firmly fight against corruption.
Why bribery persists in Egypt
The Administrative Prosecution Authority presented in its annual report in late October a study on the causes of the spread of bribery in Egypt and effective ways to eliminate it.
Counselor Faryal Qutb, head of the committee which prepared the report, revealed five reasons behind bribery:
1. Poor moral and religious education.
2. Lack of real supervision and follow up.
3. Delays in the adjudication of disciplinary punishments for bribery crimes in a manner that does not achieve public and private deterrence.
4. Poor salaries of employees in general.
5. The large number of services accomplished by a limited number of employees.
Suggestions to eliminate the phenomenon
Counselor Saad Khalil, a member of the technical office, presented in the report five suggestions to eliminate bribery:
1. Increasing the minimum wage of employees to ensure a decent living. The state has made great strides in this direction.
2. Activating internal control systems and supervisory responsibility.
3. Employees deal with the public only when necessary.
4. Increasing penalties for such crimes to reach dismissal or deprivation of pension.
5. Choosing safe places to keep deposits, all while ensuring the efficiency of security and warning devices.
Egypt ranked 108th out of 176 countries on Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perception Index, scoring 34 points, down two points compared to 2015. A score of zero is highly corrupt while 100 is very clean.
Transparency International, the leading civil society organization fighting corruption worldwide, released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index in February.
Additional reporting by Amr Kandil, Jehad El-Sayed, Walaa Ali MENA, Egypt Today Staff contributed to the article