Arab Spring: Investigation related to the ‘Egyptian Revolution’ closed

Bern, 13.04.2022 - Since 2011, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) has been conducting criminal proceedings related to the 2011 ‘Egyptian Revolution’, its key case arising from the Arab Spring. Despite the numerous enquiries and having transferred CHF 32 million to Egypt in 2018, the OAG must now accept that the investigation has been unable to substantiate suspicions that would justify the indictment of anyone in Switzerland or any forfeiture of assets; the proceedings, currently being conducted against five suspects, are therefore to be abandoned, in accordance with Article 319 paragraph 1 letter b of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrimPC), and the assets still under seizure (amounting to around CHF 400 million) will be released.

Context and history of the proceedings
Based on notifications from the Money Laundering Reporting Office (MROS), the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) has since 2011 been conducting an investigation into suspicions of money laundering (Art. 305bis Swiss Criminal Code, SCC) and supporting and/or participating in a criminal organisation (Art. 260ter SCC) in connection with events surrounding the ‘Egyptian Revolution’ in 2011. This complex and extensive criminal case initially involved 14 suspects, including the two sons of the ousted president, as well as 28 natural persons and 45 legal entities who, as third parties, hold assets that have been seized. In addition, 140 bank accounts of interest have been analysed.

The suspects, most of whom held official or important economic positions in Egypt, were suspected of having laundered funds in Switzerland of criminal origin that had been obtained from financial transactions related to acts of corruption. Several criminal proceedings were opened in Egypt and requests for mutual assistance addressed to Switzerland in this connection.

Requests for mutual legal assistance
Between 2012 and 2019, the OAG sent numerous requests to Egyptian authorities in order to obtain information on the status of prosecutions and judicial or criminal proceedings, primarily those being conducted against persons implicated in the Swiss proceedings. The Arab Republic of Egypt responded to most of these requests.

For its part, the Arab Republic of Egypt sent several requests for mutual legal assistance to Swiss authorities with the aim of obtaining evidence that would enable progress to be made in the Egyptian criminal proceedings. Working closely with the Federal Office of Justice (FOJ), the OAG cooperated as fully as possible, in particular by admitting the Arab Republic of Egypt as a complainant in the Swiss criminal proceedings in 2011. In response to certain requests, supplementary information was sought from Egypt. As this information was not received, certain mutual legal assistance proceedings could not be completed and were closed in 2017 – either by the OAG or by the FOJ. In the circumstances and in view of the lack of any realistic prospects of the restitution of these assets, the freezing of the assets ordered by the Federal Council no longer served any purpose. In December of the same year, the Federal Council repealed the ordinance freezing assets in connection with Egypt (SR 196.123.21).

To recap, on 11 February 2011, the Federal Council, as a precautionary measure, had ordered the freezing of assets held in Switzerland by the ousted President Mubarak and by politically exposed persons in his entourage. This freezing order was intended to support possible cooperation between Egypt and Switzerland in the context of mutual assistance.

Agreements on reconciliation / Acquittals in Egypt
Since 2015, reconciliation agreements and several acquittals in the Arab Republic of Egypt have ultimately brought an end to proceedings involving the principal protagonists, on charges of corruption in particular. In addition, Egypt, in its capacity as a party suffering loss, actively declared that it had withdrawn all its claims connected with these persons. On the basis of this and in the absence of any evidence of predicate offences in Egypt for possible money laundering in Switzerland, the OAG decided to abandon the Swiss criminal proceedings against several persons, as this conclusion was also supported by the results of the investigations conducted in Switzerland; notice of these decisions was given to the Arab Republic of Egypt, complainant in the Swiss criminal proceedings.

Against this background, in 2018 the OAG released seized funds amounting to over CHF 32 million, which were returned to the Arab Republic of Egypt, being transferred to an account in Egypt designated by the Egyptian authorities.

Abandonment of the criminal proceedings
In its capacity as independent prosecution authority, the OAG has the legal mandate to seek the truth, while respecting the principle of investigation – regardless of whether that truth is incriminatory or exculpatory.

With regard to the offence of criminal organisation in terms of Article 260ter SCC, the investigation revealed that the existence of links between the suspects was not sufficient to conclude that certain members of former president Mubarak’s regime engaged in activities that would meet the requirements for being a criminal organisation. Incidentally, no other specific evidence provided through mutual assistance substantiated the existence or any suspicion of a criminal organisation. As a result, there was no reason to continue proceedings for the offence of criminal organisation (Art. 260ter SCC). As far as the offence of money laundering (Art. 305bis SCC) is concerned, Swiss legislation requires a link between the funds suspected of being laundered in Switzerland and a predicate offence, a felony, even if it is committed abroad. However, the investigation conducted in Switzerland failed to establish even a tenuous link with any offence.

Although strict proof of a preceding felony is not required, there must be strong probability of criminal activity preliminary to an act of money laundering. In this particular case, the very thorough analyses of the bank transactions relating to funds located in Switzerland belonging to the suspects failed to reveal any suspicious transaction that might link the assets deposited in Switzerland with criminal acts, in particular those alleged by the Arab Republic of Egypt.

It also emerged, based on the information provided by the Egyptian authorities in response to requests for mutual legal assistance from the OAG, that commissions were set up in Egypt in order to analyse and document the various financial transfers of the assets connected with the persons under investigation in Egypt, in particular the Mubarak family. The OAG requested a copy of the related financial reports, but received no response. As a result, in the absence of evidence relating to potential offences committed in particular in Egypt, it is not possible to show that the funds located in Switzerland could be of illegal origin. The suspicion of money laundering cannot therefore be substantiated based on the information available. Thus, there is no specific or sufficient evidence to justify the continuation of the proceedings for the offence of money laundering (Art. 305bis SCC).

Release of seized funds
On opening the criminal proceedings, the OAG seized around CHF 600 million. After several years of investigations, the OAG has been compelled to issue decisions to abandon proceedings, in particular following the decisions to abandon proceedings issued in Egypt. As a consequence, around CHF 180 million was already released between 2016 and 2018. Taken with the CHF 32 million that had been transferred to Egypt, that left around CHF 400 million under seizure. In accordance with the decision of 07.04.2022, these assets will be released and returned to their beneficial owners.

Appeal deadlines
The OAG wishes to point out that there is a ten-day deadline for filing an appeal to the Federal Criminal Court against its order abandoning proceedings of 07.04.2022. As the appeal deadline has not expired, this order has not come into force and is therefore not currently available for inspection.

Original text in French

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