Trial opens of Egypt’s former agriculture minister accused of taking bribes

CAIRO Dec 12 Egypt’s former agriculture minister Salah El Din Mahmoud Helal on Saturday told a court he was innocent at the opening of his trial for allegedly taking bribes from a businessman in exchange for licenses to develop state-owned land.

Helal, who was appointed to the post in March 2015 under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, was arrested in September minutes after resigning.

The prosecution said on Saturday that Helal and his office manager had accepted bribes including a luxury residence, membership of an exclusive sports club, clothes from higher-end style shops, and mobile phones.

Helal’s workplace manager also denies any wrongdoing, but the businessman has confessed to bribing the pair, and an intermediary charged with facilitating the deal has also stated he was guilty.

The court adjourned the trial until Jan. 9 when it will hear the testimonies of witnesses.

Egypt ranked 94th out of 175 countries on Transparency International’s 2014 corruption perceptions index. The country’s 2011 uprising was partially driven by a wish to finish entrenched corruption beneath autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak. (Reporting by Haithem Ahmad and Mohamed Abdellah Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)