CAIRO — Spanish authorities have detained a close associate of ousted President Hosni Mubarak wanted for trial at home on charges of bribing Mubarak and his family and squandering public funds, Egyptian officials said Thursday.
The head of Egypt's Interpol Brig. Gen. Magdy el-Shafei told the state's Middle East News Agency authorities are preparing the necessary documents to bring Hussein Salem back to Egypt where he faces a number of charges.
Salem, one of the most secretive businessmen in Egypt, was detained in his home in Mallorca on an international arrest warrant issued by Interpol.
Salem's detention was seen as a major step toward unraveling secrets of corruption throughout the reign of Mubarak; and possibly a key to locate and retrieve much of the Mubarak's riches, believed to be stashed abroad at a time when the country's economy is depressed, months after the uprising. Some estimate Mubarak's holdings at tens of billions of dollars.
"Salem is not just a suspect in a corruption trial or for abuse of power, he is the bag of secrets and is the face of all the illicit and illegal activities of Mubarak and his two sons," said Abdel-Khaleq Farouk, an independent economist who specializes in corruption issues.
Salem left Egypt a week before Mubarak was forced to resign on February 11 after 18 days of protests. After Mubarak's ouster, the protesters continued to press for the prosecution of Mubarak and his cronies for what they say were years of abuse and corruption.
Salem was charged last month along with Mubarak and the ex-president's two sons. Their trial is scheduled for August 3.
Salem, 77, is said to have won lucrative land and other deals, including exporting gas to Israel, because of his connections to Mubarak. The natural gas deal has come under severe public criticism.
Salem, an ex-army and intelligence officer, was a close associate of Mubarak from his early days in office three decades ago.
Salem's name was linked to some of the early developments in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, including supplying the resort with fresh water and establishing the first hotels. In his later years, Mubarak spent much of his time in his home built by Salem at the resort. He headed there after he stepped down. Mubarak is being detained now at a Sharm el-Sheikh hospital.
In its charges against Salem, the Egyptian prosecution said Salem gave Mubarak and his family real estate in Sharm el-Sheikh worth nearly $7 million for less than their actual value. Mubarak is accused of enabling Salem to gain $2 billion from the gas exporting deal to Israel.
A day before leaving Egypt, Salem appeared on a private TV station_ one of the rare times he spoke to the media – to deny he would flee.
"There is nothing to cause me to run away. For 40 years, I never worked in politics and never had a government job," Salem said. "I can't put my hotels and my pumping station on my shoulder and run." Salem said his relationship with Mubarak is one of "respect."
Lawyer Nasser Amin said Salem's close relations with Mubarak helped him operate under the radar for years.
"He is the richest businessman in Egypt. He had the power and the money," he said. "He has the key to the black box of Mubarak's family and will play a big part in retrieving a lot of the country's funds" abroad.
Also Thursday, an Egyptian suspected of belonging to Yemen's branch of al-Qaida was detained upon arrival in Egypt from Yemen, an airport official said.
The official said the man, his Yemeni wife and three children returned to Egypt on Thursday with false documents.
The official said interrogators identified the man as Rabie Abdullah, 42, convicted in absentia to five years in one of Egypt's largest terrorism trials in the 1990s. He was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
The new al-Qaida leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, was sentenced in the same case along with more than 100 others, most of them in absentia. The suspects were convicted on charges ranging from forgery to conspiracy to topple the government.