'Oh, Mubarak, tell us where you got 70 billion dollars!'
Switzerland has frozen whatever assets Hosni Mubarak and his associates may have there, and now Europe and the United States are considering doing the same.
However, experts say hunting for the deposed Egyptian leader’s purported hidden wealth - let alone recovering it - will be an enormous task.
Mubarak’s actual worth remains a mystery. A recent claim that he and his sons may have amassed a fortune of up to $70 billion - greater than Microsoft’s Bill Gates - helped drive recent protests.
“Oh, Mubarak, tell us where you got 70 billion dollars!” protesters chanted before Egypt’s ruler of 30 years was driven from office last week.
Corruption was endemic in Mubarak’s Egypt where 40 per cent of the country’s 80 million people live on $2 or less a day.
Rumours of hidden riches, such as expensive real estate in Britain, the US and elsewhere, were fuelled by the cozy ties between the Mubaraks and Egypt’s business elite.
The Mubaraks have never publicly discussed their assets. Hosni Mubarak’s official monthly salary as president, counting benefits, came to $808, in 2007 and 2008.
Egypt can only start the long process of recovering assets once it launches criminal investigations, said Daniel Thelesklaf, who heads the Basel-based International Centre for Asset Recovery. After that first step is taken, Switzerland can release bank information, to be followed by the return of assets following convictions, he said.
The responsibility lies with the Egyptian authorities to get an investigation started, said Thelesklaf, noting that other countries with limited resources, such as Haiti and Nigeria, have managed to repatriate public funds. “If Nigeria can do it, Egypt can do it,” he said.