Egypt’s prosecution ordered the freezing of owner and co-founder of Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper Salah Diab’s assets, alleging that he appropriated state lands, the Reuters-run Aswat Masriya website reported.
Other businessmen are also implicated in the case, including Mahmoud al-Gammal, whose daughter Khadiga is married to former President Hosni Mubarak’s son Gamal, and former Giza Governor Yehia Saad.
The prosecution accused the defendants of appropriating large amounts of state land on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road at a price far below its actual cost.
Diab’s assets were frozen after the prosecution ordered the formation of a team of experts to evaluate the size of land appropriation, which they descrbed as “huge.”
Cairo Criminal Court will determine what to do with the assets from the other 15 defendants on November 10.
The prosecution cited a complaint filed in 2011, accusing Diab and Gammal of illegally appropriating state lands and using them to build tourist resorts, in violation of a stipulation the lands should be cultivated.
Both defendants launched the Sunset Hills for Investment company in 1995 and bought 75 feddans of state lands at a price of LE300 per feddan, with the approval from Agricultural Development and Reconstruction Authority. The price of the feddan at the time amounted to between LE5,000 and LE7,000. They are also accused of wasting groundwater by building artificial lakes in the resorts which were later sold for billions of pounds.
Diab founded Al-Masry Al-Youm in 2004, which emerged as one of the very early attempts to counter the state’s full control of the newspaper industry. Al-Masry Al-Youm deemed the prosecution’s decision as “shocking,” since the case is based on a complaint filed over four years ago in 2011. But the newspaper reiterated in a statement its commitment to report fairly on the issue.
The case comes a few days after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi lambasted Egyptian media in a speech in front of the Armed Forces this week. He referred in particular to media criticism of the government’s response to floods in Alexandria and the Delta that left dozens of citizens dead in the last two weeks. “You say that there are catastrophes everywhere, so is [the media] free of catastrophes?” he asked.
The case also comes on the heels of another major corruption case inside the Agriculture Ministry, in which former minister Salah Helal was jailed after submitting his resignation on September 7. He was referred to the Criminal Court with other ministry officials on charges of taking pay-offs in exchange for granting licenses for state land.