|Egyptians have been pressing the country's military rulers to try former officials of Mubarak's administration [Reuters]
An Egyptian court has cleared three former government ministers of graft charges, the first ruling to exonerate ex-officials since Egypt's popular uprising led to the downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak.
Anas al-Fikki, the former information minister, and Youssef Boutros-Ghali, the former finance minister, were found not guilty of squandering public funds.
In a separate ruling by the same court, Ahmed el-Maghrabi, the former housing minister, and Yasseen Mansour, chairman of the Palm Hills Developments company, were also both acquitted of graft.
The decision prompted a protest outside the courthouse by hundreds of observers and activists, but legal proceedings against the three former officials are not over. Fikki faces more charges, and the Illicit Gains Authority continues to investigate him, Boutros-Ghali and Maghrabi. All three men's assets have been frozen, and they are banned from travel outside the country.
Boutros-Ghali was previously convicted in absentia in another case and given a 30-year prison sentence.
Acquittals could drive protests
The uprising that unseated Mubarak was driven in part by widespread anger at high-level corruption, and the trials of his former associates are being seen as a credibility test for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that took power after his downfall.
The results on Tuesday could lead more people to join a protest in Tahrir Square on Friday that activists have been planning for weeks.
Egypt's general prosecutor announced shortly after ther verdicts that he would appeal the rulings on all four men. He also said he would appeal another court ruling in Suez that allowed 14 police officers accused of killing demonstrators during the revolution to go free.
The prosecutor indicted Fikki in March on charges of profiteering and wasting public funds after investigations showed he had received 36 million Egyptian pounds ($6.04m) from the finance ministry for parliamentary election media campaigns and to promote the ruling National Democratic Party.
Fikki still faces charges that he deliberately misused funds from the state-run Radio and Television Union.
Boutros-Ghali was convicted last month and sentenced to 30 years in prison for profiteering and abuse of state and private assets.
Most of the top officials in Mubarak's government, including the former president himself, have been arrested and are currently under investigation. They include Mubarak's two sons, his prime minister, and the speakers of both the upper and lower houses of parliament.
Hundreds of Egyptian government officials and businessmen have reportedly fled and are wanted by Egyptian authorities.