By Tamim Elyan
CAIRO: Leaked documents published Monday claimed that top officials, including the former intelligence chief, were involved in facilitating the gas deal between the Egyptian government and Israel through communications with the Egyptian Ministry of Petroleum and Israeli officials.
The documents published by independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm included letters between former intelligence chief and former vice president, Omar Suleiman, and former petroleum minister, Sameh Fahmy, outlining the details of the deal with requests to offer facilitations for Eastern Mediterranean Gas (EMG) company in which business mogul, Hussein Salem, is a major stakeholder.
Salem will stand trial on Aug. 3 for corruption charges, including the gas deal, which the prosecution said incurred losses on the government for exporting natural gas to Israel through his company for prices lower than international markets’.
The current government has promised to re-negotiate Egypt’s gas deals.
According to the documents, Suleiman told Fahmy to dedicate land for EMG and approve gas contracts with it.
“These documents are part of the criminal side of the case against exporting gas to Israel and those who were involved must be prosecuted,” said Ibrahim Youssry, a former diplomat who has over the years led a legal campaign to stop exporting gas to Israel.
“We are now considering filing lawsuits to include Suleiman and other officials in the case,” he added.
The first letter between Suleiman and Fahmy was dated Jan. 19, 2000 and included the time schedule for providing gas to Israel and Turkey through EMG and according to a protocol between the ministries of petroleum in the three countries.
The General Authority for Free Zones and Investment (GAFI) authorized EMG on Jan. 29, 2000 to start operations: to buy all excessive gas quantities from the petroleum authority and foreign companies in Egypt and export it to Turkey and eastern Mediterranean countries.
On Jan. 26, 2004, Suleiman reportedly sent Fahmy a draft of a ministerial decision to assign the heads of the petroleum authority and the holding company to sign the gas deal. Suleiman asked the minister to approve it, as well as, review and approve the gas contract with EMG before the company signed its deal with Israeli Electricity Company to finalize the deal “quietly.”
On April 20, 2005, Suleiman reportedly sent Fahmy a letter stamped “top secret” requesting that he reviews the memorandum of understanding between the Egyptian and Israeli governments to sell and transport Egyptian natural gas. It stated that the then-Israeli Minister of Infrastructure Benjamin Ben Aliazer wanted to sign the memorandum simultaneously with the contract between EMG and Israeli Electricity Company.
Eighteen days later Suleiman reportedly asked Fahmy to review and approve the contract of selling gas to EMG before the company signed the deal with the Israeli Electricity Company later in May that year.
Suleiman reportedly asked Fahmy to issue his orders to the head of the petroleum authority to dedicate 200,000 meter square to EMG out of 960,000 meter square that the authority got from North Sinai Governorate in 1998. The land was initially allocated for natural gas projects in Sheikh Zuwayed; EMG allegedly got the piece of land with the same prices and conditions of the contract with the governorate.
He also asked Fahmy to direct the petroleum authority to confirm supplying gas to EMG in 2011 so that they continue signing deals with Israeli companies after he received a complaint from the Israeli PM office and promised them that he will facilitate the issue.
“Intelligence influence on the Ministry of Petroleum is illegal; even though they received orders but law punishes any governmental employee who engages in any illegal actions,” said Youssry.
A previous document published by Al-Youm Al-Sabe’ newspaper said that in 1993 then-minister of foreign affairs and current presidential candidate, Amr Moussa, sent a letter to then-minister of petroleum, Hamdy Al-Banby, approving exporting gas to Israel.
Moussa denied the claims in a press statement and said that the approval was a political tactic to support Arab negotiators during peace talks with Israel that would lead to concessions from the Israeli side.
He said that he then took a “violent” stance against Israel after its manipulation during the negotiations. He said he had a main role in halting negotiations and presented the Arab stance in Economic Cooperation Conference for Middle East Countries held in Morocco in 1994, months after the published document.
He also said that he has no ties of deals that took place after he left his post at the ministry.