Egypt convicts top anti-corruption official of 'false news'

Hesham Genena in 2014.

Hesham Genena in 2014.  (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

An Egyptian court on Thursday convicted the country's former top anti-corruption official of "spreading false news" over a damning report he had issued, sentencing him to a year in prison that he must pay fines to avoid.

Judge Haitham el-Saghair passed the verdict against former chief auditor Hesham Genena, who had alleged that massive corruption had cost the country billions of dollars. He also fined him 20,000 Egyptian pounds ($2,250) which, if paid along with an additional 10,000 pounds, will allow him to avoid incarceration.

Genena, a former judge, had led the Central Auditing Organization until he was dismissed by a decree from Egypt's general-turned-politician President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

His lawyer, Ali Taha, said Genena would pay the fines to avoid jail time but appeal the verdict by the Cairo Misdemeanor Court, saying that prosecutors had showed no proof of their accusations and that the court had not examined the defense. Photographers and video cameras were banned from the court session.

Last December, Genena went public with a report that said corruption had cost the country 600 billion pounds ($67.6 billion). A pro-government daily quoted him as saying that the figure referred to money lost in 2015, but Genena later said he was misquoted and that figure covered four years, adding that the conclusion was arrived at following an exhaustive study.

Genena's lawyer, Ali Taha, said that three-quarters of the alleged graft stemmed from state lands illegally acquired by businessmen.

Genena had long been the target of criticism from pro-government media, well-connected businessmen and senior officials since he was appointed in 2012, but his massive corruption expose sparked a particular furor, with media branding him a traitor and closet supporter of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

El-Sissi dismissed Genena last March after an investigation concluded the auditor had misled the public. The removal capped a series of measures critics say were aimed at sacking Genena because he spoke out against corruption.

Genena's trial was the latest manifestation of el-Sissi's broad clampdown on dissent, even inside his own government. Since he led the ouster of his predecessor, the elected but divisive Islamist Mohammed Morsi in 2013, el-Sissi has led a heavy security crackdown against both Morsi supporters and secular political activists.

Even Genena's daughter was caught up in the retribution -- el-Sissi himself ordered her dismissal from a job as an aide in the administrative prosecution, effective last June.

Also facing trial in the more recent conflicts among officials are the head of Egypt's journalists' union and two board members, also accused of spreading false news, among other charges.