Egyptian whistle-blower gets 5-year sentence in absentia

A self-exiled Egyptian businessman whose allegations of corruption against the country’s military sparked rare protests has been sentenced in absentia to five years in prison for tax evasion.

Mohamed Ali released a series of videos from Spain earlier this year, pitching himself as a former government insider who witnessed high-level corruption and large-scale misuse of funds as a construction contractor for the military. He did not provide evidence to support his claims.

He also called for the removal of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a former military officer. El-Sisi dismissed the corruption accusations as “sheer lies and defamation”.

Ali’s videos were widely viewed and sparked scattered street protests against the president in several Egyptian cities in September. Public protests have been almost completely silenced over the past few years by draconian measures imposed under el-Sisi.

After they swiftly stamped out the demonstrations, security forces escalated a long-running crackdown on suspected dissidents, jailing thousands in the weeks that followed. Hundreds have since been released.

According to Monday’s online version of the Al-Akhbar daily, a Cairo criminal court also sentenced Ali over the weekend to pay 42 million Egyptian pounds ($2.6m) after his firm, Amlak, failed to settle a dispute with the government on taxes owed between October 2012 and September 2016.

He was also fined 50,000 Egyptian pounds ($3,100). Al-Akhbar did not specify the day of the sentencing. The verdict can be appealed.

Countless contracts

Ali said he left Egypt while the military owed him 220 million Egyptian pounds ($13m) for services he provided.

During the more than 15 years of working with the military, Ali said his company routinely paid bribes to the military’s business arm, the so-called Engineering Authority, to secure countless contracts for lucrative projects, such as the building of presidential palaces and luxury hotels.

While dismissing the corruption allegations, el-Sisi has said he would continue building new presidential residences for the good of Egypt. “I am building a new country,” he said.

Over the years, critics have questioned the expanding role of the military in the business world and its economic interests, as well as its seemingly unfair competition with the country’s private sector. They say the military enjoys advantages because it is exempted from taxation and proper auditing.

In recent remarks, military spokesman Tamer al-Rifai said the army has carried out 2,300 projects employing five million Egyptians.

El-Sisi said his government has carried out projects worth more than $245bn. He said he would inaugurate 14 new cities next year.

The president said the projects, ranging from new roads and housing complexes to an $8.5bn military-led expansion of the Suez Canal, attract investors and create jobs.

As defence minister, el-Sisi led the military’s 2013 overthrow of Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president, whose one-year rule proved divisive and sparked nationwide protests.