CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian court on Saturday cleared two former Cabinet ministers of charges that they sold state land for cut-rate prices in the country's prized resort areas along the Red Sea.
Former Tourism Minister Zuheir Garana and ex-Housing Minister Ahmed Maghrabi were found not guilty in the case involving the sale of land in the resort of Ain Sokhna and the popular tourist city of Hurgahda.
It is the latest verdict to clear former officials who served during the presidency of Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in a popular revolt in 2011. It comes at a time when several members of the former autocrat's inner-most circle have been released from prison in recent months.
State auditors reviewed the case prior to the court's verdict.
Egypt's prosecutor had accused Garana of agreeing to sell land in Ain Sokhna to a businessman from the United Arab Emirates for $1 a square meter (yard) without an open bidding process in violation of the law. The two ex-ministers, along with another former government tourism official, Khaled Makhlouf, also were accused of profiting from the illegal acquisition of land in Hurghada.
The new government is struggling to boost the once investor-friendly economy and raise foreign currency reserve levels that plunged following the uprising. Businessmen and politicians close to the presidency have spoken out in support of reconciliation talks with former officials to return millions of dollars earned under rampant corruption during Mubarak's nearly three decade-long rule.
The two former ministers, who were among the most prominent individuals in the former ruling party led by Mubarak's son, Gamal, were earlier convicted in other corruption trials.
Garana was sentenced in two separate cases to a total of eight years in prison following Mubarak's ouster. In one of the cases, the ex-tourism minister was found guilty of intentionally damaging public finances by allowing businessmen to illegally acquire state land.
Maghrabi also was convicted in a previous trial of intentionally damaging public finances by allowing a businessman to acquire state land illegally. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
Their requests for appeals in the earlier cases have been accepted. Security officials said the two would remain in prison to ensure they do not flee pending retrials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.
Mubarak's two sons, Gamal and Alaa, are in prison while on trial on charges of insider trading and using their influence to buy state land at a fraction of its market value.
Prior to the uprising, Gamal had risen rapidly through the ranks of the party to become the most powerful politician in Egypt after his father. Gamal's inner circle of businessmen has been blamed for orchestrating economic reform that liberalized the economy, but left the country's poor hard-pressed to reap the benefits of economic growth.
Separately, a court said it would issue a verdict on April 27 in another corruption case that 52 lawyers filed against former prime minister Ahmed Nazif, former finance minister Yousef Boutros-Ghali and former interior minister Habib el-Adly. The case involves the violation of traffic laws in issuing license plates for vehicles.
The three have already been sentenced to prison in separate corruption cases. Both Nazif and el-Adly are serving sentences, while Boutros-Ghali was tried in absentia.
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