Q&A: The Mubarak trial

Background on the charges against Egypt’s former president and the year-long trial process.

Mubarak trial
Mubarak and his sons first appeared in court on August 3, the first hearing in a trial that stretched on for nearly a year

Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak will appear in court on Saturday for the start of his second trial, after an appeals court dismissed the conviction and life sentence handed down against him last year.

Why was the case appealed?

Both the prosecution and defence filed appeals. The defence claimed that the case against Mubarak was weak, which even Ahmed Refaat, the judge who presided over the first trial, has acknowledged. He ruled that prosecutors did not present compelling evidence that Mubarak directly ordered the killings of protesters — but.faulted the former president for failing to stop the murder.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, appealed Mubarak’s acquittal on corruption charges. They also challenged the not-guilty charges against Mubarak’s two sons, Gamal and Alaa, who were charged with corruption; and against several high-ranking security officials accused of complicity to murder.

Is there better evidence in this second trial?

Perhaps. The current Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, ordered a fact-finding committee to investigate the unrest of the past two years.

The report has not been made public, but leaked details suggest it implicates Mubarak and his top aides. The Associated Press reported earlier this year, for example, that Habib al-Adly, Mubarak’s longtime interior minister, told investigators in a jailhouse interview that he kept the former president apprised of the crackdown on protesters during the revolution.

The committee also reportedly concluded that several of Mubarak’s top security officials, who were acquitted during the first trial, were “in or near Tahrir Square” on January 28, when security forces launched a violent crackdown on protesters.

But there are fears in Egypt that the contents of the report will never be fully released, because they could implicate senior officials in the military and security forces — many of whom remain in their posts.

Could Mubarak be released?

Again, perhaps. He has spent two years in prison, which according to some Egyptian lawyers is the maximum a suspect can be held — raising the possibility that he could be released pending the outcome of the trial.

Perhaps to avoid that, prosecutors announced a new corruption investigation earlier this week, looking into claims that Mubarak stole money from a fund earmarked for presidential palace construction. He can be held for questioning for 15 days.

Prosecutors could continue filing new charges against Mubarak, each carrying a 15-day remand, until his murder retrial is concluded.

What is Mubarak charged with?

The most dramatic charges are the murder and attempted murder of hundreds of protesters from January 25-31, 2011.

He was charged under article 40 of the Egyptian criminal code, which makes it a crime to “incite” a felony. Mubarak ordered his security forces to use live ammunition against peaceful protesters, according to prosecutors, thus making him responsible for their deaths.

Those charges are not comprehensive; protesters were killed after January 31, and security forces killed and injured an untold number of Mubarak’s political opponents before the revolution. But prosecutors decided to limit their case to that seven-day period.

In addition, the former president faces several counts of corruption and profiteering, including:

Accepting bribes from prominent businessman Hussein Salem, who allegedly gave Mubarak four villas in Sharm el-Sheikh in exchange for favourable land deals on the Sinai peninsula; and helping a Salem-owned company, East Mediterranean Gas, obtain Egyptian natural gas at below-market prices, which was then sold to Israel at a substantial markup.

What sentence do those charges carry?

The murder charges could have carried the death penalty — but Mubarak was sentenced to life during his first trial. Under Egyptian law, he cannot receive a harsher sentence on retrial. The corruption charges could carry a five-year sentence.

Who else is on trial with Mubarak?

Al-Adly, was also convicted on murder charges, but that verdict was overturned by the appeals court. He will face the same charges again.

Four of his top aides are also on trial, including the former Cairo security chief and the former head of the Central Security Forces.

Al-Adly and his aides have also been charged with failing to protect public and private property during the protests.

Mubarak’s two sons, Gamal and Alaa, are also on trial, accused of profiteering from their father’s position by accepting bribes from Salem. The public prosecutor also this week announced charges of stock market fraud against the two sons, which will be considered in a separate trial.

Salem himself has been charged with bribery; he fled the country during the revolution, so he is being tried in absentia. Salem is currently detained in Spain awaiting a possible extradition to assets, and more than $45 million in his assets have been frozen.

How long has the trial been going on?

The prosecution referred the Mubaraks to trial in May 2011; Al-Adly and his aides were charged two months earlier.

The trial itself began on August 3, when the defendants appeared in the dock for the first time. Three judges would hear the case, with Ahmed Refaat named the presiding judge. It was a dramatic moment: The former president was wheeled into the courtroom on a hospital gurney; asked to enter a plea, he referred to the judge as “effendim,” an honorific. “I deny all these accusations completely,” he said, his first public statement since the reovlution. (He did deliver a recorded message to Al Arabiya in April, but this was the first chance for Egyptians to hear him live.)

Mubarak and his sons represented by Farad al-Dib, a prominent Egyptian attorney.

Subsequent hearings were chaotic, with dozens of lawyers trying to present their demands to the court. More than a dozen witnesses, including senior security officials, delivered testimony over the next five weeks. The trial was then suspended for three months because of a motion to disqualify Refaat, which was finally discarded in late December.

Testimony concluded in January and was followed by more than a month of closing statements. Refaat finally closed the trial on February 22, 2012, and handed down his verdict in June.

Source: Al Jazeera