CAIRO — An Egyptian court on Wednesday convicted a Hosni Mubarak-era steel magnate of profiteering and squandering public funds, and handed him a 37-year prison sentence and $296 million fine – the heaviest penalty yet against a former regime official since the longtime autocrat's fall two years ago.
Ahmed Ezz, who is already serving a combined 17 years in prison from convictions of graft and money laundering, is one of the highest-profile ex-regime insiders to face corruption charges since the popular uprising that ousted Mubarak in February 2011.
A court in Cairo's sister city of Giza found Ezz guilty Wednesday of making illicit gains of $740 million over a decade in a number of illegal business deals involving a steel firm in which he became the largest shareholder, and a smaller private firm belonging to Ezz.
It ruled that Ezz was aided between 1999 and 2001 by a former industry minister, Ibrahim Mohammadein, who was given a one-year prison term with a suspended sentence and fined nearly 690 million Egyptian pounds ($100 million).
Another former head of an industry chamber was handed a 17-year prison sentence for aiding Ezz in squandering public funds. Two other company officials received one and three year sentences.
The verdicts can be appealed.
Ezz, who was arrested days after Mubarak's regime fell, was a close associate of the autocrat's son, Gamal, who many in Egypt believe was being groomed to succeed his father.
The steel tycoon became a symbol of the intertwining of business and politics that many Egyptians despised and that helped fuel the anti-Mubarak uprising. Among the key demands of the revolution was to put an end to years of corruption and kickbacks that favored officials and businessmen with close ties to the regime.
In addition to his business ventures, Ezz organized the former ruling party's last election campaign in 2010, which saw unprecedented levels of fraud in favor of regime candidates.
Since Mubarak's ouster, a number of former regime officials have been arrested and put on trial. Some of the longtime autocrat's associates have since been released pending trial, including the speakers of both chambers of parliament.
The current government of President Mohammed Morsi, who was democratically elected last year, is making attempts to settle with a number of businessmen and former officials, in an effort to boost the state's empty coffers.