Egypt’s top auditor faces backlash over graft comments

Hesham Genena alleged $75bn in corruption while commenting on official report undertaken with the United Nations.

Hesham Genena Egypt auditor made corruption claims
Hesham Genena, who has been working to expose corruption in Egypt, is facing seven court cases, his lawyer says [AP]

Egypt’s top auditor has ignited an uproar after estimating that corruption has cost the country tens of billions of dollars over the past four years, The Associated Press reported on Thursday.

Auditor Hesham Genena alleged massive corruption in newspaper interviews last month while commenting on a report his lawyer said was commissioned by the Egyptian Planning Ministry and undertaken with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

In December, Genena told local media about $75bn in state funds had gone missing over four years, AP reported. 

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Egypt’s pro-government media have now branded Genena a traitor and a closet supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now outlawed as a “terrorist” group.

The country’s state prosecutor has also issued a gagging order on any coverage of the 400-page report’s findings.

The UNDP, when approached by AP, referred questions to the ministry, which referred them to the presidential commission.

Presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef declined to comment on the matter.

Al Jazeera is not able to report from Egypt. Several attempts to contact the Cairo office of the UNDP on Thursday were unsuccessful. 

Official probe

Following Genena’s allegations, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi appointed a presidential commission that wrapped up its work in two weeks – lightning speed for an official probe – and accused the auditor of misleading the public with the help of unnamed “foreign” parties.

A presidential decree issued last year that could pave the way for the dismissal of Genena, who enjoys constitutional immunity, was recently approved by Egypt’s newly seated and strongly pro-Sisi parliament.

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Genena’s lawyer, Ali Taha, told AP that he auditor planned to publicise the results of the study next month.

Taha said three-quarters of the alleged graft stemmed from state lands illegally acquired by businessmen.

Taha said Genena was already facing seven court cases, including one alleging that he belonged to an outlawed group – a reference to the deposed president Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood – in which case he should have been removed from his post.

“El-Sisi is weak and he can’t face the lobby of the corrupt,” said Taha.

Sensitivity to criticism

The furore highlights the government’s sensitivity to criticism as it grapples with a worsening economic crisis and lingering unrest five years after the popular uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.

Genena has endured a barrage of criticism from pro-government media, well-connected businessmen, and senior officials since Morsi appointed him in 2012.

Critics say that the campaign against Genena is aimed at silencing one of the last remaining voices of dissent.

“The message is clear to us: Even if you are a senior official you are not allowed to tell people the truth,” Negad Borai, a well-known human rights lawyer, wrote in the independent Al-Shorouk daily earlier this month.

Prominent columnist Abdullah el-Sinnawi has said that he fears the campaign against Genena “will be used as a pretext to cover up for the corrupt”.

“What is really making me so angry is that those who are implicated in corruption are the ones who are leading this campaign.”

London-based Transparency International ranks Egypt 94 out of 175 nations in fighting corruption, and anger at influential businessmen was one of the central grievances of the 2011 uprising.

Source: AP