Egypt ex-minister jailed for 15 years

2012-06-28 18:00

Cairo - A criminal court on Thursday jailed for 15 years each a former Mubarak-era cabinet minister and a businessman for selling Israel natural gas below market value, a judicial source said.

"The Cairo criminal court sentenced former oil minister Sameh Fahmi and fugitive businessman Hussein Salem to 15 years in prison each over the [Israel] gas deal," the source told AFP.

They were accused "of exporting gas to Israel at below market value" undermining the interests of Egypt, the source added.

Five former high ranking officials from the oil and gas authority received jail sentences raging from three to 10 years on similar charges, the source added.

The military rulers who took over power in Egypt after veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak was ousted by massive streets protests in February 2011 launched sweeping probe into corruption.

In April Egypt's new rulers cancelled a controversial 15-year deal to export gas to Israel which was signed in 2005 but said they would be ready to negotiate a new agreement.

Egypt supplies roughly 40% of Israel's gas supplies.

The sale of gas to Israel, which signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, has always been controversial in the Arab world's most populous country.

Bedouin militants have bombed the gas pipeline - which also supplies Jordan - in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula at least 14 times since the uprising that toppled Mubarak.

Heavy criticism

Exports to Israel were launched in 2008, three years after the accord which came in for heavy criticism at the time from Egypt's then banned Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood dominated parliament after three-phased elections late last year and early this year and their candidate, Mohammed Morsi, won the June presidential poll.

Several Mubarak ministers and cronies were arrested on charges of corruption after the former leader was forced to quit, and he too was arrested and jailed.

On 2 June a Cairo court handed down a life sentence against Mubarak over his involvement in the deaths of protesters during the 2011 uprising that ousted him from power.

But Salem, who fled to Spain, was also sentenced in absentia in October 2011 to seven years in jail for profiteering.

Salem, is a former partner in the East Mediterranean Gas Co (EMG), an Israeli-Egyptian consortium, which was accused of selling natural gas to Israel at low prices.