04.24.11

Mubarak's Library Cash Stash

Prosecutors hunting for the fallen Egyptian leader's money may have their first big break: a $145 million account, meant for a famous library, mysteriously bearing Mubarak's name. Philip Shenon reports.

Have Egyptian anti-corruption prosecutors already found the first big chunk—$145 million—of former President Hosni Mubarak's hidden loot?

A prominent American scientist associated with a futuristic U.N.-backed library complex in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria tells The Daily Beast that a pot of money that size was found in recent weeks in a mysterious account in an Egyptian bank that was supposedly set up to benefit the nine-year-old library—but was held in Mubarak's name.

The scientist, Nina V. Fedoroff, a renowned geneticist and molecular biologist who is president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said the $145 million account was discovered by Egyptian government investigators after the ouster of Mubarak in February.

"In rooting through the president's affairs, they discovered a bank account with the name of the library on it," said Fedoroff, a member of the board of trustees of the Alexandria complex, which opened in 2002 on what is believed to have been the site of the greatest library of the ancient world.

At the Alexandria library, "nobody knew anything about the account," even though bank records showed the account was registered under the library's name, she said. "The account was opened over Mubarak's signature."

The question facing anti-corruption investigators: Was the bank account sort of a slush fund for Mubarak and his family, with money diverted from library's global fundraising campaign? Fedoroff declined to speculate: "It's all under investigation—that's all that I know." The board of trustees was briefed on the bank account and the investigation during a meeting in Egypt two weeks ago, she said.

Another American trustee of the library, Vartan Gregorian, head of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the former president of Brown University, was not at the meeting but said he was aware of the investigation of the bank account. "He is concerned, and he understands this will be investigated," said a Carnegie spokeswoman, Susan King.

At the Alexandria library, “nobody knew anything about the account,” even though bank records showed the account was registered under the library’s name, she said. “The account was opened over Mubarak’s signature.”

Spokesmen for the library, which has an annual budget of about $25 million a year, did not respond to emails from The Daily Beast requesting comment on the investigation of the bank account. Egyptian prosecutors said publicly in March they would be looking at the library's accounts, but have not commented on the $145 million or its provenance.

The modern, high-tech library complex, known as the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, was built in commemoration of the ancient library of Alexandria, which—until its destruction by fire in 48 BC, apparently at the hands of the Romans—was the largest and most important library on earth.

The $230 million complex, designed by a Norwegian architecture firm and developed in the 1990s as a project of the United Nations with underwriting from several foreign governments, opened more than two years late and more than $30 million over budget. It is now a major tourist attraction in Egypt, drawing more than 1.5 million visitors a year to its museums and galleries.

The library was the pet project of Mubarak's wife, Suzanne, who had been chairwoman of the board of trustees. According to Egyptian news reports, Mrs. Mubarak, who is half Egyptian, half British, is facing questioning by government anti-corruption prosecutors this week.

Her 82-year-old husband remains hospitalized for heart problems in the Red Sea resort city of Sharm El Sheikh, where the couple fled after Mubarak was forced from power this winter. He, too, faces an interrogation by anti-corruption investigators about allegations that he directed billions of dollars government projects to friends and cronies—in exchange for a share of the profits.

Mubarak said in an impassioned statement released this month that he had amassed no great wealth during his 30 years in power in Egypt, claiming that he had only a single bank account in all the world—in an Egyptian bank.

He was clearly not referring to the $145 million bank account that Egyptian investigators are apparently now eyeing.

Fedoroff said she hoped the existence of the bank account did not necessarily mean that money intended for the library had been illegally diverted.

"It's too early to say anything," she said. "All we have is speculation for now."

She said her interactions with Mrs. Mubarak about the library had always been "delightful." The former Egyptian first lady, she said, is "a very cultured person, extremely supportive of the library—her involvement was one of the important reasons that it was built."

Fedoroff said that the board of trustees was told this month that the bank account "has the president's name on it—that it presumably was set up by somebody in the president's office—but that we don't know exactly by whom or how."

She said there was a potentially happy outcome to the investigation of the bank account. If the $145 million was truly intended for the library, "it should go straight to the library, of course," she said. "The library would certainly welcome those resources. That would be delightful."

Philip Shenon is an investigative reporter based in Washington D.C. Almost all of his career was spent at The New York Times, where he was a reporter from 1981 until 2008. He is the bestselling author of The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation . He has reported from several war zones and was one of two reporters from the Times embedded with American ground troops during the invasion of Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War.