Egypt court acquits ex-culture minister of ‘illicit gains’
CAIRO - Faruq Hosni, who was Egypt's culture minister for more than two decades under ousted president Hosni Mubarak, was cleared on Saturday of corruption charges, a judicial source said.
A criminal court in the Giza suburb of Cairo "found Faruq Hosni not guilty on charges of corruption and illegal enrichment," the source said.
In September, state media reported that he had been accused of illegally acquiring 18 million Egyptian pounds (nearly $3 million).
Hosni was also accused of "abuse of power in the exercise of his duties."
The judicial source said that on Saturday, Hosni denied all the charges against him.
He told the court he had "worked for 23 years in the culture ministry, overseeing cultural works worth billions, and without the slightest temptation to monopolise them."
Hosni was placed on a travel ban, along with a host of officials, shortly after the uprising that brought Mubarak's regime down in February 2011, but the ban was later lifted.
The decision to prosecute him came after a long investigation during which Hosni "could not provide legitimate sources for the wealth he accrued," the official MENA news agency said.
The former minister stirred controversy abroad over statements in which he told an Islamist MP that he would personally burn any Israeli books found in Egyptian libraries.
Many believe that those remarks cost him his bid to head the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2009.
He blamed a "Zionist lobby" for his defeat after Bulgarian diplomat Irina Bokova won the post.
Egypt's national heritage was reported to have suffered under Hosni, with many buildings and establishments neglected during his long tenure.
In 2010, a painting by Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh valued at more than $50 million was stolen from the Mahmoud Khalil museum in central Cairo.
Several hours after the theft, Hosni announced that the painting had been recovered, but was forced to backtrack later and sought to divert blame for the premature announcement to a ministry employee.
The investigation into the theft showed that of 47 surveillance cameras installed in the museum, 30 had not been working since 2006 and that most of the time, only one security guard was on duty.
The theft exposed the deplorable security in several Egyptian museums, many housing priceless artefacts that date back to the Islamic and ancient Egyptian periods.
Hosni found himself on a long list of Mubarak-era ministers, officials and businessmen facing prosecution on corruption charges.
Former Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif was sentenced last September 13 to three years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of nine million Egyptian pounds ($1.5 million) for illegal enrichment.
Mubarak himself and his two sons, Alaa and Gamal -- once the country's symbols of wealth and power -- were acquitted in a corruption trial on a technicality.
But the deposed despot was later jailed for life in June last year for his part in the deaths of protesters seeking to overthrow his regime.