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Egypt: The responsibility of banks for asset freeze orders against human rights defenders

Egypt_HRD_asset_freeze_Amnesty_International

In 2016 and 2017, an Egyptian court issued a number of travel bans, arrests and asset freezes against human rights defenders in a case dealing with the funding of local and foreign NGOs. In September 2016, asset freezes were ordered against Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights; Gamal Eid, director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information; Bahey el-Din Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Mostafa al-Hassan, director of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center; and Abdel Hafez Tayel, director of the Egyptian Center for the Right to Education (ECRE). The court also froze the assets of CIHRS, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, and ECRE. A few months prior to that, the judges ordered an asset freeze against the Andalus Center and its Director, Ahmed Samih. In December 2016, an asset freeze was ordered against Azza Soliman, head of Lawyers for Justice and Peace, as well as her private law office, and in January 2017, the judge decided to freeze the assets of Mozn Hassan,

In December 2016, an asset freeze was ordered against Azza Soliman, head of Lawyers for Justice and Peace, as well as her private law office, and in January 2017, the judge decided to freeze the assets of Mozn Hassan, founder, and director of Nazra for Feminist Studies, as well as Mohamed Zarea and Atef Hafez, both of the Arab Penal Reform Organization. The asset freeze orders come on top of travel bans against at least 12 rights activists imposed by investigating judges.

We invited Ahli United Bank (AUB) to respond to concerns regarding its role in the asset freeze of Ms. Azza Soliman. Responses from AUB and rejoinders from Azza Soliman are provided below. We also contacted IFC with questions about its investment in AUB and its position on the responsibility of banks for freezing the assets of human rights defenders. IFC's response is provided below. We will continue to monitor allegations against relevant banks and relevant entities and will consider inviting them to respond in due course.

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Article
7 August 2017

International Finance Corporation's response regarding its investment in AUB after freezing the assets of Azza Soliman

Author: International Finance Corporation

Thank you for your email. We have been in touch with Ahli United Bank and understand that the assets you mentioned were frozen in accordance with a judicial order. As such, IFC is not in a position to compel the bank to contravene local law and court orders. As an international organization committed to sustainable private sector development, we strive to ensure all of our investments meet our environmental, social and governance policies, where applicable.

IFC’s Performance Standards, like the UNGPs, recognize the responsibility of business to respect human rights while also requiring companies to follow applicable laws. IFC also has an independent accountability mechanism for social and environmental concerns, the Office of the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), that serves as a grievance channel for persons impacted by IFC investments.

Company response
+ العربية - Hide

Author: البنك الأهلي المتحد (مصر)

)النص التالي ترجمة غير رسمية لرد البنك الأهلي المتحد (مصر) المرسل إلى مركز موارد قطاع الأعمال وحقوق الإنسان في 30 أبريل 2017(

بالإشارة لبريدكم الإلكتروني المؤرخ 24 أبريل 2017، فيما يخص حظر الحسابات البنكية للسيدة عزة سليمان من قبل البنك الأهلي المتحد (مصر) (AUBE) والذي طُلب مننا الرد عليه، نود توضيح الآتي:

  • جرى فتح حسابات السيدة سليمان في بنك AUBE، وهي شركة تابعة لمجموعة البنك الأهلي المتحد.
  • AUBE هي شركة مساهمة تعمل في مصر بموجب قانون الاستثمار رقم 8 لسنة 1997 وتحت إشراف البنك المركزي المصري، بموجب القانون رقم 88 لسنة 2003.
  • في 20 نوفمبر 2016، أصدر قاضي التحقيق أمرًا قضائياً موجهاً لبنك AUBE يحظر فيه السيدة عزة سليمان من التصرف في ممتلكاتها العقارية وأموالها في مصر، استنادا على تحقيقات أجرتها النيابة العامة في الدعوى رقم 173 لسنة 2011. وعليه حظر بنك AUBE حسابات السيدة سليمان.
  • وفقاً لقانون الإجراءات الجنائية المصري، ينبغي تقديم الأمر القضائي للمحكمة الجنائية المختصة من أجل البت فيه سواءً بالتأييد أو الرفض. وقد أيدت المحكمة الجنائية قرار حظر التعامل في حكمها الصادر في 14 ديسمبر 2016 بناءً على المبررات المذكورة في حيثيات الحكم.

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Company response
+ العربية - Hide

Author: البنك الأهلي المتحد (مصر)

)النص التالي ترجمة غير رسمية لرد البنك الأهلي المتحد (مصر) المرسل إلى مركز موارد قطاع الأعمال وحقوق الإنسان في 25 مايو 2017 (

بداية نود التأكيد بأن بنك AUBE يعمل وفقاً للقوانين الحاكمة له، وسيقوم البنك بمنح السيدة عزة حق استخدام حساباتها عند إلغاء الحكم الصادر بحقها. وفيما يخص الموضوع المذكور أعلاه، ورداً على ادعاءات السيدة عزة سليمان، بالرجاء النظر أدناه لرد البنك: الادعاء: رفض البنك صرف شيكات مسحوبة من حسابها لصالح المستفيد. كما رفض البنك تزويد المستفيد ببيان يوضح فيه أسباب الرفض مما يمثل جريمة حسب القانون مما دفع المستفيد لرفع شكوى لدى الشرطة ضد البنك. ورفض المستفيد تصعيد هذه المسألة وطلب من النيابة العامة عدم اتخاذ أي تدابير قانونية. الرد: بينما قام المستفيد بتقديم الشكوى المشار إليها، لم يطلب عدم اتخاذ إجراءات قانونية. فقد قامت النيابة العامة بحفظ الشكوى إذ لم يرتكب البنك أية جريمة على عكس ما تم ادعائه ... الادعاء: سمح بنك HSBC للسيدة عزة بسحب أموال من حسابها الشخصي في نفس اليوم الذي لم تتمكن فيه من السحب من حسابها لدى بنك AUBE. الرد: لم تقدم السيدة عزة أية أدلة تشير إلى حصول بنك HSBC على خطاب رسمي من النيابة العامة ينص على سماحها أو منعها من التعامل مع حسابها. وبالتالي عدم حصول بنك HSBC على هذا خطاب يفسر اتخاذ بنك AUBE إجراءات مختلفة فيما يخص حساب السيدة عزة. 

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Company response
24 May 2017

Ahli United Bank Egypt responds to allegations by Egyptian human rights defender

Author: Ahli United Bank (Egypt)

AUBE’s second reply on the allegations mentioned in Mrs. Azza Soliman letter dated 9 May 2017

First of all, we confirm that AUBE acts in accordance to the laws governing the Bank. And, the bank will allow Mrs. Azza to access her accounts upon the cancelation of the issued adjudication. On the other hand, and reference to the above mentioned subject and to the response submitted from Mrs. Azza Soliman on what she called allegations from our bank, kindly find below our response on the mentioned letter ...

        4. Allegation: AUBE is complicit with security agencies and violated all relevant national and international banking regulations and customs 

  • Response: this is totally false allegation with no evidence, as the bank does not complicit with any entity and there is no complements in applying law. Also, security and judicial authorities are neutral and independent bodies. And the allegation mentioned from Mrs. Azza above may constitutes a crime against her and we hope no further allegations from her in the future 

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NGO rejoinder
23 May 2017

Response by Azza Soliman to allegations made by the Ahli United Bank

Author: Azza Soliman

(unofficial translation of attached Arabic rejoinder)

Ahli United Bank alleges that on 20 November 2016, the Investigation Judge issued a judicial order prohibiting me from disposing of my real estate and monetary assets, and that this decision compelled AUB to freeze all my assets at the Bank. This is a false allegation, as the Investigation Judge merely sent a letter to the Bank, informing it that he has requested the relevant court to issue an order freezing my assets. I have seen said letter as I was filing a police report against the Bank at the Misr al-Gadeeda Police Station.

In fact, the Bank arbitrarily refused to undertake transactions on my account ten days before the date in question, claiming that there was a technical problem relating to its electronic system. The Bank unjustly refused to allow me to cash my private checks…This evidence shows that the Bank’s claims are erroneous and indicate that it was complicit with security agencies against the interest of one of its customers. This shows that the Bank’s actions violated all relevant national and international banking regulations and customs.

Original Arabic rejoinder

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Company response
8 May 2017

Ahli United Bank Response

Author: Ahli United Bank

Cairo, 30 April 2017

We refer to your e-mail dated 24 April 2017, regarding the blocking by Ahli United Bank (Egypt) SAE (AUBE) of the accounts of Mrs. Azza Soliman, to which we have been requested to respond. We respond as follows … 3 - On 20 November 2016, the Investigation Judge issued a judicial order addressed to AUBE prohibiting Mrs. Soliman from disposing of her Real Estate and Monetary assets in Egypt, based on the investigations held by the Public Prosecution in the lawsuit no. 173 of 2011. The issued order compels AUBE to block the bank accounts of Mrs. Soliman. 4- According to the Egyptian Criminal Procedures Law, the judicial order should be presented to the competent Criminal Court in order to support or refuse such order. Consequently, and after presenting the issued order, the Criminal Court issued its verdict on 14th December 2016 supporting the prohibition order based on the justifications mentioned in the recitals of verdict … AUBE’s blocking of the accounts of Mrs. Soliman was lawful and based on the judicial order issued from the Investigation Judge dated 20 November 2016 and supported by the verdict dated 14th December 2016 issued from the competent Criminal Court, as outlined above … AUBE is obliged to act in accordance with the governing laws and accordingly, AUBE will only be able to allow Mrs. Soliman to access her accounts after the cancelation of the issued order.

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Article
8 May 2017

Egypt: Court upholds asset freeze motion on human rights defenders

Author: Mostafa Mohie (Mada Masr)

‘Punished for doing their jobs:’ Lawyers defend HR workers in court, 14 December 2016

A Cairo court upholds the asset freeze motion for rights lawyer Azza Soliman and the Lawyers for Justice and Peace company she heads, adjourning its decision on asset freezes for Mozn Hassan and Nazra for Feminist Studies, and Mohamed Zaree and Atef Hafez and the Arab Organization for Criminal Reform … The law of criminal procedures entitles the public prosecution to request the asset freezes of defendants based on its own investigations, or a request from the investigative magistrate in charge of the case... since the NGO foreign funding case was reopened earlier this year, none of the defendants in the case has been interrogated, except human rights lawyer Azza Soliman, nor have their names or charges been officially announced to date … The investigative judge considers bank transfers to be a crime in itself, the [defendants’ lawyer, Taher Abul Nasr] asserts, even though there are no laws criminalizing the transfer of funds to private or company accounts … “My client is one of the most prominent women’s rights defenders. This is neither a crime, nor something to be ashamed of. She is against violence against women in the public space; why should this harm national security or Egypt’s reputation?” [defendants’ lawyer, Ahmed Ragheb] declares.

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Article
8 May 2017

Egypt: Human rights defender awaits decision on asset freeze order

Author: Mada Masr (Egypt)

Review of Azza Soliman’s, other rights workers’ asset freezes, adjourned to December 14, 12 December 2016

A final decision regarding the recommendation by an investigative judge to freeze the assets of human rights defender Azza Soliman and the organization she heads was postponed Monday to December 14. The asset freeze recommendation is part of a wider case that includes other human rights defenders, some of whose assets have also been frozen and are due to be reviewed on this date … Parliament passed the NGO law amid controversy over articles expanding the authority and role of the state in monitoring and regulating Egyptian civil society … Soliman attempted to cash a cheque from the Ahli United Bank in early December, when the administration at the bank told her there was an asset freeze on her account at the request of investigative judge Hesham Abdel Hameed, despite the fact the court has not yet reviewed the recommendation. She filed an appeal at the police station. A few days later, on December 7, Soliman was arrested and interrogated, before she was later released on LE20,000 bail … Judge Abdel Hameed charged Soliman during her interrogation with accepting foreign funds with the aim of damaging the country’s security, establishing an entity that undertakes NGO activities and tax evasion. Soliman was banned from travel on November 19, and told by airport security that the decision was issued on November 17 due to her involvement in an ongoing court case.

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Article
19 September 2016

Egypt: Court orders asset freeze of prominent human rights defenders and organizations

Author: Mada Masr

Egyptian human rights defenders vow to continue work after asset freeze

A request to freeze the assets of some of Egypt’s most prominent rights organizations and rights defenders was accepted in court on Saturday, in a long-running investigation into receipt of foreign funds with the aim of endangering national security.

The North Cairo Criminal Court's decision affects Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) founder and journalist Hossam Bahgat, Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) head Gamal Eid, the Egyptian Center for Right to Education and its head Abdel Hafiz Tayel, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and its head Bahey Eddin Hassan, and the Hisham Mubarak Law Center and its manager Mostafa al-Hassan. The court rejected the prosecution’s request to freeze the assets of the human rights defenders’ family members…

The asset freeze comes in the context of case 173, in which 17 rights defenders from 12 organizations face charges of receiving foreign funding to harm national security and founding organizations of an international nature without permits… Twelve human rights defenders, including Eid and Bahgat, are facing ongoing travel bans in relation to the investigations.

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Article
15 August 2016

Egypt: Court to determine asset freeze of human rights defenders Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid on September 17

Author: Mada Masr

Court adjourns case to determine Hossam Bahgat, Gamal Eid asset freeze to September 17

Cairo Criminal Court postponed a hearing to review the asset freeze of human rights defenders Hossam Bahgat, Gamal Eid and four others to September 17. The defendants are part of a 2011 case accusing a number of NGOs of illegally receiving foreign funding. The case was reopened in March when the state-owned Middle East News Agency reported that Cairo Criminal Court was due to review a ruling to freeze the assets of four defendants, including Bahgat and Eid.

During the May hearing, an investigative judge recommended that the assets of four additional people be frozen: Bahey Eddin Hassan — founder of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, as well as another employee at the center; Mostafa Hassan — administrative assistant at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, and Abdel Hafez Tayel — head of the Egyptian Center for Right to Education…

Lawyers […] argued that receiving transfers from abroad, as testimonies from a National Security Agency officer and a Societe Generale Bank employee indicated, is not a crime in itself… They added that an asset freeze is a penalty in itself, which contradicts the presumption that the defendants are innocent until proven guilty, and infringes on private property rights….

The foreign funding case dates back to 2011 when 43 workers from foreign NGOs were charged with operating an organization and receiving funds without a license. In 2013, all the defendants, including 17 US citizens, received sentences ranging from one to five years in prison. Many of the defendants received the charges in absentia.

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