Europe decides on Egypt asset freeze

15th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

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 from 0900 GMT.

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.


© 2011 AFP

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