CAIRO — Egyptian authorities have exhausted all legal grounds to keep deposed President Hosni Mubarak in detention after an appeals court on Tuesday ordered his retrial in a corruption case, officials said.
The corruption case was the only one still keeping the 86-year-old Mubarak behind bars. The autocratic former president has already been cleared over the killings of protesters during Egypt's 2011 uprising that toppled him.
Tuesday's ruling by the Appeals Court — a top tribunal based in Cairo — overturned a verdict last May that sentenced Mubarak to three years' imprisonment and his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, to four years in prison each. Four other defendants in the case were acquitted. Mubarak's lawyers had appealed that verdict.
Though the ruling paved the way for Mubarak's imminent release, there was no explicit statement from the authorities that he would leave as a free man from the Cairo hospital where he has been held. There were also conflicting statements by officials on whether the release would actually take place.
An official at the chief prosecutor's office told The Associated Press that "paperwork was being processed" for Mubarak's release. The official declined to speculate if and when that could happen. However, an unnamed security official told the state-run MENA news agency that Mubarak will remain in detention since the Appeals Court ruling didn't include a release order.
"The ruling of the Appeals Court didn't include the release and it is in the hands of the general prosecution or the new court handling the case," MENA quoted the official as saying.
The apparent confusion over the release stems from discrepancies in calculating the time Mubarak spent in pre-trial detention and on legal technicalities related to his status — whether he was in detention over corruption charges or not — when he was referred to court.
Since his detention in April 2011, Mubarak has spent most of his time in custody in a military hospital in the Cairo suburb of Maadi.
According to two senior security officials, Mubarak, even if released, would remain in the same hospital for security reasons.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Farid el-Deeb, Mubarak's chief defense lawyer, told several Egyptian newspapers that Mubarak would not leave the hospital because he was "sick" and needed medical attention. Efforts by the AP to reach el-Deeb have been unsuccessful.
The corruption case — dubbed by the Egyptian media as the "presidential palaces" affair — is linked to charges that Mubarak and his two sons embezzled millions of dollars' worth of state funds over the course of a decade toward the end of Mubarak's rule. The funds were meant to pay for renovating and maintaining presidential palaces but were instead allegedly spent on upgrading the family's private residences.
In the case's May verdict, judge Osama Shaheen said Mubarak, "had a duty to restrain himself and his sons from stealing state funds ... but instead, he gave himself and his sons license to embezzle public funds, helping themselves without oversight or consideration. Hence, they deserve to be punished."
Mubarak and his sons were also fined 21.1 million Egyptian pounds ($2.9 million) and ordered to reimburse 125 million Egyptian pounds ($17.6 million) to the state treasury.
The Mubaraks had returned around 120 million pounds to the state in connection with the case in the hope that the charges would be dropped, but the proceedings against them continued anyway.
In the case of the killing of protesters in 2011, a judge cited a technicality to dismiss the case. However, the same judge also described the 2011 uprising — one of the first to sweep the region in what became known as the Arab Spring — as part of an alleged "American-Hebrew conspiracy" to undermine Arab nations for Israel's benefit.
That ruling was a blow to the pro-democracy and youth groups that spearheaded the uprising against Mubarak.