Egypt seeks extradition of Sisi's 'pain in Spain'

Madrid is looking into the case of Egyptian construction contractor Mohamed Ali at the Egyptian authorities' official request that the Spanish authorities extradite him for fraud offenses.

al-monitor Egyptian self-exiled businessman Mohamed Ali poses during an interview in an office near Barcelona, Spain, Oct. 23, 2019. Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images.

июл 30, 2020

The Egyptian authorities are seeking the arrest of Mohamed Ali, a construction contractor residing in Spain. On July 21, the Spanish Ministry of Justice revealed that Egypt made an official request to the Spanish authorities to hand over the Egyptian businessman who resides in Barcelona on charges of fraud and money laundering. 

According to AFP, the ministry said, “The Egyptian embassy filed a request for the extradition of Ali who has been residing in Barcelona for two years, and whose case is pending resolution before the Spanish National Court.”

AFP quoted Egyptian investigators as saying that Ali is guilty of up to 135 million Egyptian pounds ($8.45 million) in tax fraud and 4 million Egyptian pounds ($250,000) in money laundering, and that the charges are linked to the purchase and sale of real estate and cars between 2006 and 2018.

In December 2019, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Ali in absentia to five years in prison and imposed a fine of 50,000 Egyptian pounds (about $3,130) after he was convicted of tax evasion.

Ali, a former military contractor, had traveled to Spain in 2018 following a dispute with Egyptian army commanders over construction projects he was in charge of.

Ali came to prominence last year when he began on online campaign against corruption in Egypt. His videos went viral as demonstrators took to the streets in September 2019. At the time, The Economist dubbed him "Sisi's pain in Spain." His influence, however, faded fast, perhaps because his credentials as a reformer seemed thin relative to his role as an aggrieved construction magnate. 

The New York Times reported July 14 that Ali appeared before a Spanish judge July 9 via videoconference to be heard on tax evasion and money laundering charges made against him by the Egyptian authorities. The paper said that the judge gave him 45 days to present his legal defense and explain the reasons why he should not be sent back to Egypt.

Ali told AFP July 21, “Since I began making videos to expose corruption within the Egyptian regime … I know [President Abdel Fattah al-] Sisi wants revenge in some form.” 

“In Spain, they respect human rights and they know that the case against me is political,” he added.

In an interview with Arabi21 news site July 21, Ali said he was approached by someone who expressed willingness to partake in the payment of the lawyer fee, given that he is unable to pay the high legal fees.

He noted, “There is no judicial cooperation agreement between Egypt and Spain on the extradition of criminals. Yet still, the Egyptian prosecution called on the Spanish authorities to take into account what it called the importance of international judicial cooperation and good relations between the two countries.”

Ali stirred the anger of the Egyptian authorities in 2019, when he posted videos on his social media pages in September of that year speaking in detail about his work with the Egyptian army in the construction field, and revealed corruption cases and the construction of some presidential palaces without providing concrete evidence on that. 

Yet the videos stirred controversy in the Egyptian street, prompting Sisi to state in his speech at the National Youth Conference on Sept. 14, 2019, that the palaces were being built for the people and not for himself.

On Sept. 24, Sisi discussed with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez ways to boost security cooperation and counterterrorism. 

The ambassador of Spain to Egypt, Ramon Gil-Casares, told Egypt’s Al-Dustour daily in October 2019 that there is no extradition agreement between Egypt and Spain.

He continued, “Nearly two years ago, his country suggested signing with the Egyptian side an agreement on the extradition of criminals and wanted persons in the two countries. Yet no agreement has been signed so far. It should be noted that the discussion of treaties and agreements between countries by the relevant authorities take too long, before referring them to the parliament for discussion, approval and ratification.”

In this context, Nabil Helmy, a professor of international law at Zagazig University and the former dean of the university’s Faculty of Law, told Al-Monitor, “When it comes to Ali’s case, there is no extradition agreement between Egypt and Spain. Yet it is the Egyptian authorities’ right to request that Spain deports a convicted defendant in a criminal case.”

Helmy said, “The Spanish judiciary has the discretion to assess the matter based on the case documents the Egyptian authorities submitted, and to investigate with Ali and ask him to submit documents proving his innocence. He will be extradited to Egypt in case he is found guilty by the Spanish judiciary.”

He noted, “This has nothing to do with any political calculations. The Spanish judiciary is the authority to decide on the matter, not the political authorities. The Spanish judiciary is supposed to issue a travel ban against Ali until the investigation is over.”

Helmy added, “The Egyptian prosecution has the right to notify Interpol to pursue Ali in any country he travels to.”

On July 21, AFP quoted an Egyptian security source as saying, “The Egyptian prosecution is searching for Ali and has notified Interpol in this regard.”

In the same July 21 interview with Arabi21, Ali said, “I was supposed to be in prison during the 45-day deadline. I was, however, treated as a diplomat, and released quickly, particularly since there were wide-scale reactions, considering that I am a public and influential figure. This is in the wait for Egypt to submit the complete allegations file to the Spanish investigation authorities for the judge to verify its accuracy and validity.”

Diaa Eddine Daoud, a member of the opposition 25-30 parliamentary bloc, told Al-Monitor, “The lack of transparency resulted in the emergence and escape of Ali, who admitted in his own videos that he was committing corruption. Things would have been different if he had been held accountable before his escape to Spain.”

Daoud said, “Spain is not expected to consent to the extradition of Ali given the lack of any extradition agreement. Yet it is important that the Egyptian authorities take such an action so that no state or security agency employee commits a felony and manages to escape abroad, like Ali.”

He added, “Ali did not provide any evidence on the accusations he leveled against the state [back in 2019]. Yet the lack of transparency and lack of information on the state projects have helped the Ali phenomenon spread out.”

“He is not, however, an opposition member, yet his positions point to political gains, particularly since he cooperated with the Muslim Brotherhood and entities that deal with countries hostile to Egypt. The proof is that he always appeared on media channels hostile to Egypt and funded by Turkey and Qatar [such as Al Jazeera TV],” Daoud concluded.

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