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Spain freezes assets of detained Mubarak associate

By Daniel Woolls

Associated Press

Published: Friday, June 17 2011 7:05 a.m. MDT

MADRID — Spain has frozen €33 million ($47 million) in accounts held by a detained Egyptian associate of ousted president Hosni Mubarak and relatives of the detainee, who is also wanted back home, officials said Friday.

Hussein Salem, 77, his son and an associate described as a frontman were arrested in a wealthy Madrid suburb. The money was allegedly obtained illegally in Egypt and sent to accounts in Spain held by Salem, his family and his business empire, the National Police said. Police also seized homes worth €10 million ($14 million).

Salem appeared Friday before two judges: one handling the Spanish money laundering probe and another dealing with the international warrant under which Salem was arrested at the request of Egypt.

Salem also holds a Spanish passport, a court official said on condition of anonymity in line with court policy.

One of the most secretive businessmen in Egypt, Salem is wanted in his country on charges of bribing Mubarak and his family and squandering public funds, Egyptian officials say.

His detention was seen in Egypt as a major step toward unraveling secrets of corruption throughout the reign of Mubarak; and possibly a key to locate and retrieve much of Mubarak's riches, believed to be stashed abroad at a time when the country's economy is depressed, months after the uprising. Some estimate Mubarak's holdings at tens of billions of dollars.

Salem left Egypt a week before Mubarak was forced to resign on February 11 after 18 days of protests. After Mubarak's ouster, the protesters continued to press for the prosecution of Mubarak and his cronies for what they say were years of abuse and corruption.

Salem was charged last month along with Mubarak and the ex-president's two sons. Their trial is scheduled for August 3.

Salem is said to have won lucrative land and other deals, including exporting gas to Israel, because of his connections to Mubarak. The natural gas deal has come under severe public criticism.

Salem, an ex-army and intelligence officer, was a close associate of Mubarak from his early days in office three decades ago.

Lawyers for Salem standing outside the Spanish courtroom where he was being questioned Friday declined to comment or give their names.

A National Police statement says the money frozen by Spain was funneled into Salem family and business accounts through a series of companies created by the detained frontman. It did not name the latter, but said he was Turkish and gave his initials as A.E.

It was not immediately clear which case would be given priority by the Spanish court, the Spanish money laundering probe or Egypt's charges against Salem.

Complicating things further is Salem's Spanish passport, which might help his lawyers argue against extraditing him to Egypt.

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Ciaran Giles in Madrid and Sarah El Deeb in Cairo contributed to this report.

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