Mubarak had no role in Israel gas deal: Lawyer

Hosni Mubarak is on trial over the killing of protesters during the uprising as well as corruption.

Cairo: Egypt`s deposed leader Hosni Mubarak played no part in drawing up a deal to export Egyptian gas to Israel that prosecutors say helped line the pockets of one of his associates, Mubarak`s lawyer said on Saturday.

Mubarak, ousted last February in a street revolt, is on trial over the killing of protesters during the uprising as well as corruption and abuse of power during his three-decade tenure.

He is charged with approving the gas agreement with Israel. Prosecutors say it was a bad deal for Egypt and allowed businessman Hussein Salem to make illegal profits.

Salem was a major shareholder in East Mediterranean Gas (EMG), which carried out the exports. Egyptian opposition groups long complained that EMG sold gas at preferential prices to Israel and other countries, costing Egypt billions of dollars in lost revenue.

A court that handed Salem a seven-year prison sentence in absentia in October said he and his family laundered more than USD 2 billion from the sales.

Mubarak`s lawyer Farid el-Deeb said the deal was engineered by Egypt`s intelligence service under its former chief Omar Suleiman and the price was approved by the cabinet of Mubarak`s Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif.

"The prosecution has dragged Mubarak into this case but without giving any evidence against the defendant," Deeb told the court. "Egyptian intelligence carried through the agreement to export natural gas to Israel."

The former petroleum minister Sameh Fahmy was referred to court over the gas exports and former spy chief Suleiman - a powerful figure under Mubarak - has already asserted that Mubarak was not involved, Deeb said.

Egyptians who rose up against Mubarak in anger at a gaping rich-poor divide are demanding he answer for corruption during his rule, but some are starting to express concern that the prosecution`s case is not as strong as they had hoped.

Terms of Egyptian gas sales to Israel and Jordan have been reviewed since Mubarak`s overthrow but supplies have faced repeated disruption from attacks on the pipeline running through the Sinai border region. No group has claimed responsibility.

Egyptian authorities foiled a fresh attempt to blow up the pipeline on Saturday, security sources said, four days after the authorities announced the link was being reopened on a trial basis.

As with previous attacks, security officials blamed the attack on "an anonymous militant group".

At least eight saboteurs tried to place a bomb underneath the pipeline but residents spotted them and alerted the armed forces, who arrived quickly, said one security source. He said the militants escaped after an exchange of gunfire.

Bureau Report

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