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See no evil: London gives Mubarak cronies free pass on 'stolen billions' held in UK

The UK has failed to freeze millions in assets belonging to key figures in the regime of former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. Investigative journalist Tony Gosling says the growing scandal shows the true face of British foreign policy.

From £10 million luxury homes in posh London neighborhoods to businesses registered to members of Mubarak’s inner circle despite their inclusion in a British Treasury sanctions list, the six-month investigation, led by the BBC, has shown systemic failures by the UK government to seize stolen fortunes stashed in the UK.

While some $135 million worth of assets belonging to Mubarak, his immediate family, and over a dozen other Egyptians have now been frozen in the UK, publicly-accessible records from the Companies House and Land Registry show that regime figures who embezzled billions from Egypt before Mubarak’s ouster 18 months ago have parked unspecified fortunes in Britain without intervention by the country's authorities.

"The UK is one of the worst countries when it comes to tracing and freezing Egyptian assets," Egypt's new Legal Affairs Minister Mohamed Mahsoub said.

Assem al-Gohary, the head of Egypt's Illicit Gains Authority, says that while the British government is legally obligated to help Egypt recover the money, it has asked for Cairo to provide evidence of the assets' whereabouts despite their being held under British jurisdiction.

This is a collective crime from both the British and Egyptian governments," Mohamed Mahsoob, a public investigator who led the drive to find Egypt’s “stolen billions,” told the Guardian.

While the British Foreign Office has said that the apparent reluctance to seize the stolen assets is based on the need to facilitate their return lawfully, investigative journalist Tony Gosling says British and Egyptian elites have been colluding all along.

RT: London is apparently demanding more evidence from Cairo before agreeing to freeze these assets – is that a legitimate demand?

Tony Gosling: It’s really good to see the BBC doing this report. The important thing to remember here is the speed in which the assets were seized, both of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya and of course the $100 million or so of President Assad in Syria. This money was seized by the British government in milliseconds. With Mubarak’s money and his friends’ money, it’s 18 months down the line and there’s still letters going back and forth between the British and Egyptian governments asking questions, [saying] we can’t seize the money. Not only that, they have allowed companies to be set up by people that were supposed to be on the Egyptian sanctions list. Those companies have been allowed to continue trading; these companies have been shut down [voluntarily] with no questions asked. So I think the sort of hidden message, in British foreign policy towards Egypt, is that we don’t actually recognize this new regime. We are actually wedded to our previous business contacts in the old Mubarak regime.

RT: What are the benefits for Britain in protecting some of the core cronies in the Mubarak regime by safeguarding their fortunes?

TG: I think there are too many business connections between the two. Essentially we are talking about hidden connections that have to do with arms dealing. We had David Cameron of course do a big arms-selling tour of the Middle East during the Arab Spring. Let’s not forget where this money came from in the first place. We have in Britain at the moment a big privatization program going on – many of our state assets are being sold off to friends of the leading Conservative Party, who are themselves billionaires… but those assets were seized over in Egypt by Mubarak’s friends themselves.

So it’s really a privatization scam of state assets that have been sold to individual friends of Mubarak, and the Egyptian people should have that money back straight away.[But] those business contacts between Britain, Egypt and the military-industrial complex over here that likes to sell arms to Egypt seem much more important than honoring their diplomatic commitments.

RT: President Hosni Mubarak and his inner circle were accused of stealing tens of billions of dollars – the UK has already frozen over one hundred billion – what effect did this have on its vital banking sector?

TG: I can tell you what happens when there are delays in seizures. We’ve got a complete contrast with certain countries [whose] assets are seized immediately. What happens is they move their assets around the world, hide them even further, even in just a couple of days. For example, when these assets were seized in Switzerland, they were seized within 30 minutes to stop any of [these funds] being moved around the planet.

The more important background to all of this is that British Foreign policy, as it’s talked about [officially] by people like William Hague and David Cameron, this is evidence that we’re not actually doing what we say we are going to do. So where is this other kind of shadow foreign policy coming from?

If you start looking at groups like a private club called the Royal Institute for International Affairs, Chatham House – these are funded by the financial elite, the military industrial complex and by the BBC too. And these people from the Royal Institute for International Affairs and Chatham House are actually setting, to a large extent, through their organs, their papers like International Affairs, what British Foreign policy is. They’ve got far much more clout than the foreign office. And they essentially tell people like William Hague what to do. So a lot of this has to do with who is setting this foreign policy, and that’s why we’ve got a contrast between what we’re hearing from Hague and Cameron and what is actually happening on the ground.