Switzerland halts ‘mutual legal assistance’ with Egypt in Mubarak family funds case

Swiss judicial authorities have decided to halt mutual legal assistance to the Egyptian government in the investigations into the funds of former President Hosni Mubarak, his family and others, as the investigations have not yielded any tangible results, according to a statement issued by the Swiss Embassy in Cairo on Wednesday.

The statement also said that the Egyptian attorney general’s office was informed of this decision in late August distinguishing between the conclusion of mutual assistance and the continuation of the investigation, as mutual legal assistance is only one “part of the investigation,” and that no final decisions regarding the funds have been taken.

Mutual legal assistance is extended when a state requests the exchange of information in cases pertaining to cross-border corruption charges, a procedure based upon the United Nations Convention Against Corruption that aims to facilitate the prosecution, according to Osama Diab, a researcher at the Middle East and North Africa Research Group.

The end of Swiss proceedings does not mean that the US$430 million frozen in Swiss accounts will no longer be under investigation or that “mutual legal assistance between Switzerland and the Arab Republic of Egypt is impossible,” the statement asserts.

Judicial cooperation between Egypt and Switzerland began after Mubarak was deposed in February 2011. However, the Swiss embassy asserts that “despite this cooperation, Swiss judicial authorities had to conclude that the legal requirements were not met, particularly with regard to the link between the alleged crimes and Switzerland.”

The embassy issued the statement to deny reports that had emerged in Swiss media asserting that the move indicates the pending conclusion of the court’s six-year investigation, and that the freeze on Mubarak’s funds would be lifted.

According to Diab, members of Egyptian civil society have called for a conclusion to the cooperation between Egypt and Switzerland, notably after a December 2012 Swiss court decision to halt mutual cooperation with Egypt, returning the more than US$700 million in frozen assets due to the instability of the institutional situation in Egypt, and for Switzerland to continue its investigations independently.

Diab explained that suspicions of money laundering allow the Swiss authorities to investigate the case independently of  Egypt, because it is classified as a crime under Swiss law, regardless of the fact that the defendant resides outside the country.

Diab also noted that the Swiss move may have emerged out of one of two possibilities: the first is that the Swiss have decided to complete the investigations independently, in light of repeated complaints of Egypt’s attempts to obstruct the investigations. The second is that the move comes in preparation to halt investigations into the case and lift the freeze on Mubarak’s funds.

According to Diab, Swiss law allows investigating authorities in Switzerland to compel defendants to prove that the legitimate acquisition of funds suspected of being illicitly acquired.

In December 2016, Swiss prosecutor Michael Lauber announced that Switzerland would lift the freeze on Mubarak associate and businessman Hussein Salem’s estimated 180 million francs after the Egyptian government reached a reconciliation deal with him.

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