"Petty thieves are hanged, but the big ones escape!" was the headline of the English-language Egyptian Mail over an article about Rami Lakah, who heads a dozen companies, most of them concerned with medical equipment.
The weekly publication is run by Samir Ragab, a close associate of President Hosni Mubarak.
The daily Al-Gomhuriya, also run by Ragab, had already attacked Lakah Thursday.
But on Saturday it was the Egyptian Mail's turn. "The billionaire Rami Lakah, who owes his Egyptian creditors nearly 1.5 billion Egyptian pounds (about 440 million dollars), fled the country for the second time."
"He is now in Paris, where he telephoned a senior leader, threatening to do what he can to ruin the Egyptian economy's image," the Mail said.
"Egyptians are concerned about the growing number of billionaires on the run. We regularly learn of a new businessman who is heavily indebted and has left the country," it added.
The authorities said Lakah has been trying to put his financial affairs in order. No arrest warrant has been issued for him, nor has any lawsuit been filed.
In an interview run in Saturday's Akhbar al-Yom, Lakah said he owes the state Bank of Cairo "832 million Egyptian pounds, including 650 million in seven-year bonds."
He said he has 520 million Egyptian pounds in his accounts at the bank.
"The ministries of health and higher education are behind in payments of a total of 300 million Egyptian pounds to my group, and private companies owe me 600 million pounds," he added.
Egypt has been in a liquidity crisis for months, with a shortage of both dollars and pounds. Experts have blamed the crisis on major expenditures for huge projects in irrigation and new industrial ports, and on the the low level of exports -- CAIRO (AFP)
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