Wednesday 23 April 2014

The Credibility Gap: New Accusations in Egypt - What's New?

First they jail journalists, now they are reportedly again after Hawass, and again on the basis of accusations from former colleagues: 'World-famous Egyptologist Zahi Hawass under investigation for graft' Ahram Online, Wednesday 23 Apr 2014. Round and round we go...
World-renowned Egyptologist and former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass is under investigation by Egypt's authorities on charges of illicit gains, Al-Ahram's Arabic news website reported on Wednesday. The superstar archaeologist and former secretary-general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) has been accused by officials at the council of illegally acquiring a fortune of some $14 million kept in US banks. This is not the first time such accusations have been levelled at Hawass, but past investigations cleared him of such charges.
Now that is quite some amount. He was appointed Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities only in 2002, appointed Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, a newly created cabinet post, by Mubarak on January 31, 2011 and left both positions on July 17, 2011. He was a National Geographic Explorer in Residence from spring 2001 until some uncertain date after January 2011. Reportedly
"beginning in 2001 and continuing for a decade, National Geographic paid the archaeologist between $80,000 and $200,000 a year for his expertise". 
Fourteen million in ten years is 1.4 million dollars a year, quite a lot more than 200,000 dollars - so where do his colleagues assert he was getting the other 1,200,000 dollars a year from? Let us also bear in mind that from all accounts Dr Hawass' lifestyle cannot be said to have been particularly 'modest', so the money that he's alleged to have secreted away is on top of some pretty hefty spending. Even if his colleagues are accusing him of starting the alleged activities when he became chief inspector of the Giza Plateau (in early 1994 after some dispute over a statue) the ability to amass $14million in 18 years (that's still savings of $770,000 a year) is - to say the least, difficult to account for. Anyway, let us see what these new investigations come up with, and I look forward to hearing why the previous investigations missed the evidence of such hefty cash transfers. 

Here's a little conspiracy theory. Regular readers of this blog will know that I consider that - despite all - there is a chance that Dr Hawass will make a comeback. He has not been idle since July 2011. It is my considered opinion that he has several aces up his sleeve. It may well be that the elections coming up will create possibilities for him. My guess is these accusations will be found to be groundless, and were dragged out in order to damage Hawass, in an attempt to prevent him building a position of strength at what some could see as a crucial juncture. Cui bono?

Vignette: Egypt today a muddle of accusations and counter accusations.

UPDATE 27th April 2014
 Anti-preservationist US lawyer Peter Tompa jumped with alacrity at yet another opportunity to smear Egypt, its government and public figures offered by a three-day old online article concerning allegations against former minister Zahi Hawass ('Zahi Hawass the Martyr?' Friday, April 25, 2014). He alleges that Dr Hawass was "using his public office for private gain". Of course absolutely no US politician has ever done such a thing, never. Completely unthinkable. I'd like Mr Tompa to say (a) who, specifically, in Egypt has levelled these new accusations against Dr Hawass and on what basis? The online article he cites only mentions "officials at the council" and some vague reference to this being "under investigation by the authorities". I'd also like to ask, who, specifically wrote the Al-Ahram article? Who authorised its online publication and why? Why, so far is this information not confirmed by any other source?

I see that now I am being accused on Peter Tompa's blog by metal detectorist John Howland of not really knowing very much about this situation. Howland claims superior knowledge of course. On the contrary, unlike the owner of that blog and (I would guess) Mr Howland himself, I have worked within central government at a high enough position and long enough to see how the sort of processes we are discussing do and do not work. Unlike the both of them, too, I have also lived through (as Howland never fails to try to use as a smear against me) pretty substantial and extended regime change and its aftermath here in Poland and have been a keen observer of the political and social changes that arise in such situations. Egypt is going through what I and my family and colleagues experienced since the 1980s. The varied mechanisms we see operating in Egypt today are very familiar to us. So, in fact I have a great deal more direct personal experience than my two critics here of what actually happens in such situations, and it is on this I base my scepticism in this case. They only have their prejudices.

 UPDATE 10th May 2014
 Anti-preservationist US lawyer Peter Tompa just cannot get his act together, he's now published another post on Hawass (Friday, May 9, 2014: "Collecting Egyptian Not So Bad?") on the occasion of his coming to the USA to give a talk. Now, if it were true that there are credible accusations that said ex-minister had been embezzling 14 million US dollars of corrupt money, how does Tompa imagine Hawass would be allowed to leave Egypt (precisely to the country where he allegedly has these millions stashed away)? Last time there were allegations of this nature Hawass had his passport taken away and was unable to travel abroad.


kyri said...

hi paul,some of these american networks pay millions per year.i recently read a piece about storage wars,another program out of the states where people bid for abandoned storage lockers.i was shocked to read that they were getting $880,000 per year and more in "expenses"so 200k for hawass is peanuts and unbelievable because without him on the payroll,there would be no filming in egypt period.$14 million for hawass over a decade is"dave hester sues" to see what these micky mouse chanels are paying nobodys.

Paul Barford said...

That be as it may, but we know what he was being paid by the TV company. If he was earning a huge honorarium on top of that for being on TV and he was doing that within the bounds of the law, then that is surely earnings, not "graft". Well, we will see.

Cultural Property Observer said...

I assume the concern here is not how much he was paid and whether it is "worth it" compared reality tv stars, but whether he was using his public office for private gain, as in giving Nat Geo an exclusive TV deal. I assume US Government investigators can figure out if Hawass had such large accounts in US banks. If so, it certainly does raise serious questions of possible graft from other sources.

Paul Barford said...

But have you considered why it is accounts in American banks speciffically mentioned? So your banks willingly share details of their clients with all and sundry? Because it seems to me that in the STATES it is not Hawass who is under investigation, but Nat Geo.

But yes, the ammount claimed IS important. Such a figure needs a pretty good explanation.

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