Britain, Germany, France say Egypt seeking assets freeze

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Egypt has asked Britain, Germany and France to freeze the assets of former regime officials, both EU countries said Monday, as finance ministers for the bloc discussed the issue in a meeting in Brussels.

British foreign minister William Hague said Britain would conform with the request and take "firm and prompt action" if there was any evidence of misuse of state assets.

He said Britain had taken a similar course of action with Tunisia, whose president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled last month in a popular revolt which lit the fuse for the mass protests against Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

"We have... received a request from the Egyptian government to freeze the assets of several former Egyptian officials," Hague told parliament.

"We will of course cooperate with this request, working with EU and international partners as we have done in the case of Tunisia.

"The Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister George Osborne) will discuss economic support and possible freezing measures relating to assets with EU finance ministers tonight and tomorrow in Brussels."

Hague added: "If there is any evidence of illegality or misuse of state assets we will take firm and prompt action."

He did not specifically mention Mubarak, who stepped down last Friday after 30 years of authoritarian rule but remains in Egypt, holed up in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Germany later said it too had received a request from Egyptian authorities for the financial assets of former government members and lawmakers to be frozen.

A spokesman for the German foreign ministry said it was examining the request.

And in Paris, Bernard Valero, the French foreign ministry spokesman, said Cairo also asked France to freeze the assets of former Egyptian regime officials but not those of deposed president Hosni Mubarak and his family.

The European Union and Britain alike had both earlier insisted that they needed a request from Cairo to act against Mubarak's assets, and also that any freeze should be part of an international framework worked out by a body such as the EU.

Ahead of the meeting in Brussels, the head of the eurozone area, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, said Monday he wanted the region to follow Switzerland's lead in freezing assets held by Mubarak.

Britain's government has been under growing pressure to freeze funds belonging to Mubarak and his entourage amid reports that they stashed millions of pounds in accounts in Britain and elsewhere.

Business Secretary Vince Cable warned Sunday that the British government would act against any British bank involved in helping Mubarak improperly move funds but said the British government would not act alone.

"I wasn't aware that he (Mubarak) had enormous assets here but there clearly needs to be concerted international action on this," Cable told the BBC.

Hague also said Monday that Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq had told him opposition figures would be included in a reshuffled cabinet within the next week following Mubarak's dramatic departure.

The minister said he had spoken to Shafiq, the Egyptian prime minister, to discuss the situation in the country, where the military have suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament ahead of fresh elections in six months.

"I encouraged the Egyptian government to make further moves to accommodate the views of opposition figures and was pleased to hear from prime minister Shafiq that members of the opposition should be included in a reshuffled cabinet due in the next week," Hague said.

"We would also like to see a clear timetable for free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections and a genuinely inclusive dialogue about the country's future."

Hague said Britain welcomed the Egyptian military's commitment to "all regional and international obligations and treaties," a reference to the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.

© 2011 AFP

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