'It's revenge': Whistleblower Mohamed Ali fights extradition to Egypt
The Egyptian government is attempting to extradite Mohamed Ali from Spain "in retaliation" for revealing financial and political corruption, the whistleblower has told Middle East Eye.
Last year, former contractor and occasional film star Ali captivated Egyptians with a series of online videos detailing the graft and excess of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and his inner circle.
The revelations, some of which he made exclusively to MEE in October, caused such outrage that protests broke out across Egypt in the first such scenes of dissent since the 2013 military coup that brought Sisi to power.
'The Egyptian government fabricated several accusations and issued judicial rulings against me in an attempt to pursue me abroad'
- Whistleblower Mohamed Ali
Now, the Egyptian government is accusing Ali of a raft of financial crimes himself, and has demanded that the authorities in Spain, where he now lives, extradite the whistleblower. The Spanish judiciary is considering the request.
Ali categorically denies the accusations of tax evasion and money laundering.
"The Egyptian government fabricated several accusations and issued judicial rulings against me in an attempt to pursue me abroad after they failed to deny the information I provided to the public and answer the questions that I asked," he told MEE.
According to documents sent by Egypt to Spain, and seen by MEE, Ali is being prosecuted on three charges: the first is related to general taxes; the second to sales taxes; and the third to money laundering.
As the documents reveal, Egyptian authorities only began bringing these charges forward from September, days after Ali's first video was released. Ali describes it as "revenge".
In his videos and revelations to MEE, Ali detailed the corruption he witnessed in his 15 years as a building contractor to the military. Included were palaces constructed for Sisi while he was defence minister, before the general ousted Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi.
He told MEE how Sisi and his family on 5 December 2012 toured a multimillion-dollar palace built in Cairo's Helmeya district, about eight kilmotres from violent clashes between Morsi's supporters and opponents outside the Ittihadiyah presidential residence that left 11 dead.
The residence, paid for by the armed forces, was initially planned to cost 25m Egyptian pounds (then $3.9m), but expenses jumped to $9.5m after feedback from Sisi's wife.
Such allegations caught Egyptian authorities by surprise, and anti-government protests were seen in several Egyptian cities on 20 September. The government responded with a brutal crackdown that saw 2,300 arrested, according to Amnesty International.
Though Ali tried to encourage further demonstrations and join forces with Egypt's fractured and weathered opposition abroad, momentum died down and in January he announced he was exiting politics.
Ali says he was owed vast sums for work he had already completed for the military, but has stressed that corruption rather than unpaid debt was the reason he left for Spain in 2018.
Soon after he began releasing his videos, authorities began pressuring him and his family still in Egypt.
An Egyptian court specialising in tax evasion convicted Ali last year, sentencing him to five years in prison and imposing a fine of $2.6m, to be paid to the tax authorities as compensation for owed VAT. The court also compelled Ali to pay 1.5 percent of additional tax per month.
The documents filed with the Spanish judiciary show that the Egyptian authorities are now demanding Ali pay taxes of around $8m, while accusing him of fraud, money laundering and tax evasion in real estate deals that took place between 2012 and 2018, when he moved to Spain.
"If these crimes took place during these years, why didn't they stop me when I left Egypt? Why were these cases filed in 2019, after the corruption of the army and the presidency was exposed?" Ali asked.
Ali first found out he had been summoned to court on 7 July, and two days later appeared for proceedings in Madrid from video link in a courtroom in Catalonia, where he lives.
He was told Egypt had requested his extradition back to Cairo, and a judge asked him questions in the presence of a lawyer and translator.
The court decided to give Ali 45 days to submit his legal defence and his written response to the charges filed by the Egyptian public prosecution.
Egypt has a history of pursuing its critics and exiles abroad, including through extradition requests. The vast majority have been unsuccessful, though some have resulted in exiles experiencing difficulties travelling and having their assets frozen.
Ali does not believe Spain will hand him over.
"Deportation to Egypt means a threat to my life, and I am in a country that places the safety of people as a top priority," he said.