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03.09.2012 Africa

Britain blocking efforts to freeze Mubarak assets: official

A supporter of Egypt's ousted president Hosni Mubarak holds his portrait outside a courthouse in Cairo in June.  By Khaled Desouki (AFP/File)
LISTEN SEP 3, 2012
A supporter of Egypt's ousted president Hosni Mubarak holds his portrait outside a courthouse in Cairo in June. By Khaled Desouki (AFP/File)

LONDON (AFP) - The Egyptian public investigator who led efforts to hunt down property belonging to the regime of toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak has accused Britain of being "one of the worst" countries for housing assets.

In a BBC investigation aired on Monday, Mohamed Mahsoob said Britain and Egypt had frustrated attempts to seize the UK assets of the fallen regime, arguing they were guilty of a "collective crime".

"The UK is one of the worst countries when it comes to tracing and freezing Egyptian assets," said Mahsoob, who was recently appointed to the country's new cabinet.

"This is a collective crime from both the British and Egyptian governments," he told the BBC.

"The British are saying that they need official requests from the Egyptian government before they take any action and that until this happens they are allowing the free movement of assets and the closure of certain accounts of companies beyond UK borders."

Britain's Foreign Office maintained it was helping Egypt but that it was not possible for the UK to "deprive a person of their assets and return them to an overseas country in the absence of a criminal conviction and confiscation order.

"We are therefore working closely with the appropriate authorities in Egypt to help them understand the legal process and how to work with it effectively and efficiently," added foreign office minister Alistair Burt.

Judge Assem el-Gohari, the official in Egypt's justice ministry responsible for tracing embezzled funds, also expressed frustration at Britain's response.

"The British government is obliged by law to help us but it doesn't want to make any effort at all to recover the money," he told the BBC Newsnight investigation.

"It just says: 'Give us evidence'. Is that reasonable?" he asked.

"We're in Egypt. How can we search for money in the UK? We believe the UK has breached international law and the anti-corruption agreements."

Shortly after Mubarak's downfall, Egypt's interim government called on the West to freeze the assets of several former regime members who were suspected of siphoning public money.

According to the BBC probe, Britain took 37 days to begin carrying out the request, in contrast to Switzerland, which began freezing assets within half-an-hour.

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