EU may freeze assets of Mubarak henchmen

File picture dated February 11, 2009 shows Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a press briefing after his meeting with Turkish President Abdullah Gul in Istanbul. Embattled Mubarak delegated on February 10, 2011 power to his deputy and former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and proposed constitutional reforms but said the transition to end his 30-year-reign would last until September. (Photo by MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images)

Feb 15 (KATAKAMI.COM / FRANCE 24 / AFP ) —– EU ministers will decide Tuesday on Egypt’s request to freeze the assets of ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s henchmen, and consider French proposals for a web of investment across the Arab world.

After Cairo asked the European Union’s three biggest powers — Britain, France and Germany — to block bank accounts, finance ministers from all 27 EU member states will tackle the issue today.

Monday evening’s session in the two-day talks on the euro debt crisis ended early with the surprise announcement that ministers had agreed a 500-billion-euro fund for eurozone states in financial difficulties.

That allowed ministers to ministers to re-focus on the issues arising from the wave of popular uprisings in the Arab world.

London’s finance minister George Osborne argued for a pledge by all 27 EU states to strip the assets of the closest associates of Egypt’s ousted strongman Hosni Mubarak.

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde called for a radical new web of investment across growth-challenged Europe’s southern Mediterranean rim to encourage the fledgling democratic revival.

Italy’s preoccupation however, was a request for EU financial support to fund more measures to protect its vulnerable coastline from a wave of post-revolutionary illegal immigration, mainly out of Tunisia.

European treasuries are still preoccupied with a sliding currency, rising bond yields — particularly in Portugal — and a looming leadership vaccuum at the head of the European Central Bank.

But the historic events in Egypt have transformed the ministers’ agenda.

A senior diplomat said riches accumulated by “six or seven” Egyptians, although “definitely not including Mubarak,” were being targeted.

Amid rumours of serious ill-health, Mubarak’s name “was not even discussed or debated,” said the diplomat.

The EU could use a United Nations convention against corruption as grounds for action, he added.

Already last Friday, the Swiss government ordered a freeze on any assets belonging to Mubarak and his entourage, just hours after his downfall.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague drew a comparison with EU-wide action against Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, toppled last month in a revolt that inspired anti-Mubarak forces in Egypt.

“If there is any evidence of illegality or misuse of state assets we will take firm and prompt action,” Hague said.

On Monday, a senior official in the US State Department confirmed that Egypt’s new government had also asked it to freeze assets of officials who had worked under Mubarak — but not Mubarak himself.

Tuesday’s discussion will cover “financial and economic aspects” arising from a protest movement that is also affecting Algeria and others, said Lagarde.

She wants EU and member-state “investment” mobilised in a bid to “support the democratic movement taking root in these countries.”

The debate may however be complicated by Italy’s demand for 100 million euros ($134 million) in aid after some 5,000 migrants landed on outlying EU island territory Lampedusa in a five-day period.

In a telephone conversation with EU president Herman Van Rompuy, Berlusconi made it clear the situation “is urgent and concerns all of the European Union,” said a statement from Rome.  (*)



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