William Hague offers lawyer to Egypt in Mubarak assets row

William Hague and President Mursi William Hague's meeting in Cairo was the first high-level one between the new Egyptian president and the UK government

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The foreign secretary has offered to send a lawyer to Egypt to help it recover assets held in the UK by supporters of its former leader.

William Hague made the offer at talks with President Mohamed Morsi - his first meeting with Egypt's new leader.

Last week a BBC investigation revealed the UK government was failing in its commitment to freeze assets of the ex-Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak's regime.

Britain said it was doing as much as it could to trace the funds.

During the meeting in Cairo, Mr Hague offered to send a prosecutor to Egypt as part of plans to increase co-operation between the UK and Cairo over the search for assets held by Mubarak regime officials in Britain.

The lawyer would work with the Egyptian prosecutor's office.

Sanctions

Egyptian officials have accused the UK government of being slow to freeze and return Egyptian assets held by members of the former president's family and others.

In February 2011, Mr Hague told Parliament the UK had agreed to Egyptian government demands to freeze the assets of several former Mubarak officials.

But it took more than a month before Britain and 27 other EU states applied the sanctions. Egypt said the delay allowed the accused officials to move their money elsewhere.

A BBC Arabic and Newsnight investigation found that property and companies linked to key figures in the Mubarak regime have been largely unaffected by the sanctions.

They included London-based investment company Medinvest Associates, co-founded by Mr Mubarak's younger son Gamal, which continued trading for almost a year after sanctions were imposed.

As of 2 September 2012, £85m ($135m) of assets belonging to Mr Mubarak, his wife, two sons, and 15 other Egyptians had been frozen in the UK.

Speaking earlier this month, Assem al-Gohary, head of Egypt's Illicit Gains Authority, said: "The British government is obliged by law to help us. But it doesn't want to make any effort at all to recover the money. It just says: 'Give us evidence'. Is this reasonable?"

In response, Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said the government were "working closely" with Egyptian authorities to "identify and restrain" assets identified as stolen.

But he added: "It is crucial that the recovery and return of stolen assets is lawful. It is simply not possible for the UK to deprive a person of their assets and return them to an overseas country in the absence of a criminal conviction and confiscation order."

He said Britain could not have acted more quickly to freeze assets because such an order cannot be made on the basis of suspicion alone.

UK 'fails to freeze' Mubarak-era assets - watch BBC Newsnight's full report

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