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Egypt's Stolen Billions

 

Last week the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stood down after being in power for over three decades. Protesting against their lack of democratic freedom, corruption and widespread poverty the revolution was nothing short of extraordinary. And, after 18 days of popular protests, Mubarak finally listened.

It begs the question though: why did it take 18 days for him to realise his time was up - was it a case that Mubarak was getting his ‘house in order’ before departing?

Before finally succumbing to the will of the people Mubarak had been steadfastly defiant. In his last media appearance he stated:

"I have lived for this nation. I have exhausted my life defending the land and its sovereignty. I have faced death on my occasions. I never bent under foreign pressure. I never sought false power or popularity."

What about false prosperity?

Now that he’s gone, the full scale of Mubarak’s wealth is becoming apparent. Indeed it’s estimated that Mubarak’s personal fortune could be as high $70 billion dollars.

According to the Guardian, Mubarak has properties in Manhattan and Beverley Hills. And his son’s aren’t doing too bad either. Both are billionaires.

The scales of Mubarak’s wealth is simply staggering. For example, his privately held wealth is more enough to cover Egypt’s $32 billion foreign debt.

Mubarak’s wealth is extraordinary when you consider the reality that a quarter of Egyptians currently live in poverty. His personal wealth is money that should otherwise go towards development. It’s money that deprives the people he has ‘exhausted’ his life for of their right to have critical infrastructure built. It’s schools, hospitals and roads.

But this isn’t just a case of Mubarak being a corrupt leader placing his own interests ahead of his country. It would not have been possible for him to amass such wealth without the advantages of the global financial system.

Most of the gains made by Mubarak have been taken offshore, deposited in foreign bank accounts or invested in expensive property. To do this, he needs financial help.

And that’s only possible with our complicity. For Mubarak to move such vast sums of money over an extended period of time he needs foreign assistance.

As it stands, there’s a whole range of systems that enable people like Mubarak to funnel money, that more often than not isn’t theirs, into offshore bank accounts.

According to Christopher Davidson, professor of Middle East politics at Durham University, most of Mubarak’s money is probably tied up in Swiss bank accounts and London property.

Encouragingly, the Swiss government moved last Friday to freeze any assets in the country’s banks that may belong to Mubarak or his family.

But the UK still lags behind their European counterparts. Just like their reluctance to implement the Bribery Act, the government has been reluctant to act to seize Mubarak’s assets. When asked if Britain would follow the Swiss, Business Secretary Vince Cable responded with the argument that ‘there is no point one government acting in isolation.’

That isn’t good enough. It’s time for us to recognise the role that our financial and banking systems play in this.

Because that’s the problem with corruption. It’s not simply a problem over there.

Rather, our governments, laws, institutions and systems are involved in helping make it possible for leaders like Mubarak to unjustly enrich themselves at the expense of their people.

As Ian Birell forcefully put it, it’s not enough to ‘shrug our shoulders and deplore corruption’ in the developing world.

Because ‘as the big men steal and their people suffer, we are aiding and abetting their crimes. So instead of just applauding Egypt's protesters, we should take responsibility for our own contribution to their poverty and unemployment. This would do far more to help the developing world than our obsession with aid. So let's end the hypocrisy.’

That’s why we’re campaigning on this. Over the next few months we’ll be writing about tax havens and the shadowy financial system that enables and perpetuates corruption.

We’ll be publishing a whole lot more material detailing the role our government can play in combating extreme poverty. These are, after all, laws that our governments pass that, for example, enable leaders like Mubarak to purchase property in London. Tightening up laws and regulations around tax havens, avoidance and evasion are critical for combating global poverty.

Too often money simply disappears off the record. It’s time for this to come to an end.

If, like us, you think this is unjust, now is the time to act. And you can add your voice to those calling for justice.

Right now, Avaaz are collecting an online petition calling on the G20 to immediately freeze any assets of the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, his family, friends and advisors and return them to the rightful owners – the Egyptian people.

Also, you can sign up to our campaign where we’ll keep you informed of future developments and opportunities to get involved and get active and make your voice heard.

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