Europe looking at Egypt asset freeze, decision next week

15th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

The European Union Tuesday weighed requests from Egypt to freeze the assets of Hosni Mubarak's inner circle, with a final decision expected in days and France for one heightening money-laundering surveillance.

EU finance ministers, meeting in Brussels over the rumbling eurozone crisis, were directed by governments to prioritise the Cairo request and have handed the issue for a decision Monday at a Brussels meeting of the bloc's 27 foreign ministers.

"This will be decided quickly," said German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, whose government was among three, including Britain and France, asked by Cairo to act.

A final decision "should be taken by foreign ministers", said Gyorgy Matolcsy, finance minister of Hungary, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

"We are going to do everything we can ... to create prosperity in the vicinity," he added, referring to calls to boost trade and economic ties with countries lying on the southern flank of the EU, in particular Tunisia and Egypt.

A spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said the request from Egypt did not target Mubarak or members of his family.

"We are not considering a freeze on Mubarak's assets because the Egyptians have not asked us to," said a diplomat who asked not to be identified.

The source said Cairo wanted a freeze slapped on assets belonging to seven people, including five parliamentarians and former government ministers and two of their associates. New names may be added to the list.

Meanwhile France said it would place accounts -- significantly, including Mubarak's own -- under heightened money-laundering surveillance.

France has asked financial operators to pay "special attention" and apply "extra measures of vigilance" to suspect Egyptian assets.

The United States is also looking at similar sanctions, after Switzerland on Friday froze assets just hours after Mubarak's fall.

British foreign minister William Hague, who first revealed the Egyptian demands on Monday, said Europe would act the same way it did over Tunisia, whose president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled last month in a popular revolt which lit the fuse for the mass protests that deposed Mubarak.

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

After 30 years of rule, Mubarak is holed up in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said the EU needed to examine "how to join together to provide support for the democracy movement taking root" right across the region, including the likes of Tunisia and Algeria.

The diplomatic moves came as Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit called on the international community to help speed its economic recovery after the two-week revolt.

A member of a caretaker cabinet that military rulers have said will serve until a new government is formed following free elections, he called on "international parties to provide aid to the Egyptian economy, which has been severely affected by the political crisis that has shaken the country," his ministry said.

A wave of strikes threatened to paralyse the Egyptian economy.

© 2011 AFP

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