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Egyptian whistleblower Mohamed Ali sentenced to five years in absentia

The exiled former military contractor alleged widespread corruption in Egypt's military [YouTube]

Date of publication: 10 December, 2019

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A former Egyptian military contractor who made serious allegations of corruption against Egypt's president has been sentenced to five years in prison.
A self-exiled Egyptian businessman whose allegations of corruption against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the country's military sparked rare protests has been sentenced in absentia to five years in prison.

Former military contractor Mohamed Ali was charged with tax evasion.

Ali released a series of viral videos from Spain earlier this year, pitching himself as a former regime insider with knowledge of high-level corruption and large-scale appropriation of public funds.

Although the former military contactor did not provide evidence to support his claims, many Egyptians abroad and at home, where at least a third of the country lives in abject poverty, were incensed by accusations that Sisi and his military used public funds to finance lavish hotels and villas.

Ali also called for the ousting of Sisi, who seized power from Egypt's first democratically elected president in a 2013 military coup. The Egyptian president has dismissed the Spain-based exile's accusations as "sheer lies and defamation".

His viral videos sparked scattered street protests against the president in several Egyptian cities in September.

While small in comparison to the current mass protest movements in Iraq and Lebanon, September's demonstrations represented a rare public challenge to Sisi's regime, which has crushed dissent using draconian measures.

The protests were stamped out after a few weeks when security forces escalated a long-running crackdown on activists and suspected dissidents, jailing thousands in the weeks that followed.

Hundreds have since been released, but several prominent lawyers, activists and academics who have voiced criticism of Sisi in the past remain in pre-trial detention.

Read more: Blast-proof tourism: Egypt builds a wall around Sharm el-Sheikh to 'keep out terrorists and Bedouins'

Egypt has also escalated its ongoing crackdown on press freedom since, launching a raid on what is perhaps the country's last independent news website, Mada Masr, and detaining several journalists last month.

A Cairo criminal court also sentenced Ali over the weekend to pay around 42 million Egyptian pounds ($2,600,000) after his company, Amlak, failed to settle a dispute with the government over taxes owed between October 2012 and September 2016, Al-Akhbar reported.

He was also fined 50,000 Egyptian pounds ($3,100).

Ali had claimed he left Egypt while the military owes him 220 million Egyptian pounds, or $13 million, for services he provided.

During the more than 15 years of working with the military, Ali said his company routinely paid bribes to the military's business arm, the so-called Engineering Authority, to secure countless contracts for lucrative projects, such as the building of presidential palaces and luxury hotels.

While dismissing the corruption allegations, Sisi has said he would continue building new presidential residences for the good of Egypt. "I am building a new country," the president said.

Over the years, critics have questioned the expanding role of the military in the business world and its economic interests, as well as its seemingly unfair competition with the country's private sector. They say the military enjoys advantages because it's exempted from taxation and proper auditing.

In recent remarks, military spokesman Tamer al-Rifai said the army has carried out 2,300 projects employing 5 million Egyptians.

Sisi said the military has overseen road projects costing 175 billion Egyptian pounds ($1 billion), and that his government has carried out projects worth more than $245 billion. He claimed he would inaugurate 14 new cities next year.

He has said the projects, ranging from new roads and housing complexes to an $8.5 billion military-led expansion of the Suez Canal, attract investors and create jobs.

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