CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian court on Thursday ordered a former oil minister and a close friend of ousted president Hosni Mubarak to 15 years in prison after they were convicted of corruption over the sale of natural gas to Israel.
Former oil minister Sameh Fahmy and businessman Hussein Salem were charged with harming the country’s interests by exporting natural gas to Israel for prices lower than those prevailing on world markets at the time. Salem was tried in absentia. He was on the run for more than a year until he was arrested earlier this year in Spain, where he remains.
Salem allegedly sold Mubarak and his family five luxury villas at a fraction of their market value in return for Salem’s landing a lucrative deal to export natural gas to Israel. Mubarak and his sons were found not guilty of corruption charges charge this month because the statute of limitations for the offense had expired.
The former president was convicted and sentenced to life in prison on June 2 for failing to prevent the killing of protesters during last year’s uprising that toppled his 29-year regime. His sons remain in prison, facing charges of insider trading.
Israel and Egypt signed the gas deal in 2005. For many Egyptians, that deal typified the close ties Mubarak forged with Israel and how his associates benefited financially from such deals.
Critics charge that Israel got the gas at below-market prices — a charge Israel denies — and that Mubarak cronies skimmed millions of dollars off the proceeds.
Egypt terminated the 20-year gas deal in April, saying the Israelis hadn’t paid its bills. Israel is suing and says it halted the payments because repeated attacks by militants on the gas pipeline in Egypt’s Sinai desert had all but cut off gas shipments for the past year.
Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979.