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Mubarak’s $70 billion nest egg

It’s hard to see why Hosni Mubarak is so reticent to leave office — not least because he wouldn’t exactly be retiring to a life of austerity. According to a report first published in Al Khabar, the family fortune that would await the departing president could amount to as much as $70 billion. How on ...

ROBIN UTRECHT/AFP/Getty Images
ROBIN UTRECHT/AFP/Getty Images

It’s hard to see why Hosni Mubarak is so reticent to leave office — not least because he wouldn’t exactly be retiring to a life of austerity. According to a report first published in Al Khabar, the family fortune that would await the departing president could amount to as much as $70 billion.

How on earth did the Egyptian president get so rich? (For some perspective: Egypt’s GDP is only slightly more than twice that amount, $188 billion.) The answer is a combination of corruption and business deals forged with foreign investors and businessmen in Egypt. Mubarak also owns countless homes and several hotels, which contribute to his family’s assets. 

At least some of this wealth is reported to be held in offshore accounts, notably in Switzerland. But here’s some bad news for Mubarak: On Feb. 1, the Swiss government passed an interesting piece of legislation that will make it much easier for countries to repatriate illictly-stolen wealth from past dictators. One of the first applications was the wealth of Haitian ex-strongman Jean-Claude Duvalier, which has now been frozen and may well return to the government in Port au Prince.

Of course, Mubarak has lots to answer to and economics are just a piece of it. (For a extensive catalogue of all the reasons not to feel sorry for his beleaguered regime, check out our FP list.) But time and time again, illict wealth has been the achilles heel of ex-autocrats who might otherwise live their lives in quiet exile. Chile’s dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, for example, still had great public support until his people learned how many billions he’d stashed away. Countless other autocrats (including Tunisia’s ousted President  Zine al Abidine Ben Ali) have met a similar fate.

So much for a quiet retirement in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Update: There is some disagreement about the size of Mubarak’s ‘estate’ — another estimate reported by MSNBC’s Open Channel blog puts the sum at a still-healthy $2 billion. Lawyers and activists will be nailing down the exact sum, undoubtedly, for years.

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