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Egyptian court acquits one of Mubarak's closest aides

Zakaria Azmi, former chief of staff to the deposed president, was originally sentenced to seven years in prison in 2012
The Court of Cassation in Cairo, which in 2013 ordered a retrial of former chief of staff Zakaria Azmi (AFP)

A Cairo court has acquitted one of deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's closest aides in a retrial of a corruption case, state news agency MENA reported on Saturday.

While courts have previously absolved several Mubarak-era officials, they have been handing down lengthy sentences to liberal and Islamist activists in cases ranging from protesting to committing acts of violence.

Zakaria Azmi, Mubarak's former chief of staff, was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2012 and fined 36.4 million Egyptian pounds ($2.3mn at present rates) on charges of making illegal gains.

In 2013, the appeals court ordered a retrial in that case and a separate criminal court ordered his release.

The acquittal comes a month after the anniversary of the day in 2011 when protesters began to gather in Cairo's Tahrir Square demanding an end to Mubarak's 30-year rule.

For 18 days, hundreds of thousands demonstrated in a makeshift tent camp, denouncing social inequalities, government corruption and police abuse, and calling for democratic reforms.

Under increasing pressure, Mubarak resigned on 11 February. He continues to be held at a military hospital on the outskirts of Cairo.

Critics have accused present President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of cracking down on freedoms won during the revolt since the former army chief toppled Mubarak's successor, Islamist Mohamed Morsi, and of showing lenience to former officials in the Mubarak administraion.

Years of political turmoil and an Islamist insurgency that has killed hundreds of soldiers and police since Morsi's overthrow have taken a toll on Egypt's economy.

Sisi, whose government last year secured a $12bn loan from the International Monetary Fund, has promised further efforts to revive the economy.

"We will continue to reform the economy, build massive development projects throughout Egypt, support small and medium-sized projects, and improve the domestic and foreign investment climate," Sisi said last month.