Middle East

Egypt puts former auditor on trial over corruption claim

Hisham Geneina (file photo, 16 April 2014) Image copyright AP
Image caption Reporters were barred from the opening of Hisham Geneina's trial in Cairo

Egypt's former top auditor, who was sacked after highlighting government corruption, has gone on trial accused of spreading "false news".

Hisham Geneina was fired in March, soon after estimating corruption cost Egypt $67.6bn (£46.3bn) over four years.

Mr Geneina said the figure was based on an exhaustive study, but a presidential commission concluded that he had misled the public with "foreign" help.

The former judge denies the charges and says they are politically motivated.

Critics say the prosecution raises questions about President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi's avowed commitment to fighting corruption.

'Politically motivated'

Reporters were barred from the opening of Mr Geneina's trial at the Cairo Misdemeanour Court, but the Associated Press reported that it was swiftly adjourned until 21 June after his lawyers asked for more time to study the case.

Mr Geneina earlier told the New York Times that the prosecution was politically motivated and driven by powerful enemies inside the government.

"I was expected not to touch certain corruption cases," he said.

The case is based on comments Mr Geneina made to two Egyptian newspapers last December, when he was still head of the Accountability State Authority (ASA).

The daily Al-Youm Al-Sabea quoted Mr Geneina as saying in an interview that endemic corruption had cost Egypt some 600bn Egyptian pounds ($67.6bn) in 2015 alone, mostly in corrupt land deals.

Mr Geneina later said that he had been misquoted and that the figure covered four years - a claim supported by a separate interview with another newspaper.

He also noted that it was based on a study commissioned by the Egyptian planning ministry and carried out with the UN Development Programme.

The president did not state why he dismissed Mr Geneina three months later, but it came after the presidential commission said he had exaggerated the figure.

Mr Sisi has made fighting corruption a top priority since coming to power after leading the military's overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.

Egypt was ranked 88th out of 168 countries on Transparency International's 2015 corruption perceptions index.

Two months ago, Mr Sisi's former agriculture minister was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being found guilty of corruption. Salah Eddin Helal was accused of taking bribes to sell state land to a businessman at a heavily discounted price.

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