Egyptian media reported on July 9 that the head of the small Jewish community of Cairo, Carmen Weinstein, who is nearing 80, had been sentenced to three years in jail for having defrauded an Egyptian businessman and ordered to pay 40 000 Egyptian pounds as partial compensation. The court had found her guilty of selling one Nabil Badia a piece of real estate belonging to the community on which stands a synagogue for the sum of three million pounds, and refusing either to put the place in his name or to return the money.
The news came as a surprise to Mrs. Weinstein since she had not been informed of the trial and had therefore not been represented – thus effectively preventing her from defending herself.
Carmen Weinstein has always lived in Cairo; as the president of the community she has an office in town and it would not have been difficult to notify her and to call her to testify. The fact that it was not done raises a number of questions. None of them, unfortunately, was asked by the local press.
The media in Egypt and in other Arab countries seized on the occasion to launch a vicious attack not only against Mrs. Weinstein but against Jews in general and Israel more specifically. Comments and commentaries on the Web saw in the condemnation of the head of the community an indictment of the Jews and of the Jewish State.
What is of even greater interest is the fact that reports in the Egyptian press failed to mention another recent court case which appears strangely relevant.
There had been attempts to sell a number of properties belonging to the Jewish community with the help of forged documents. The affair had drawn a great deal of media attention at the time, since it involved two Egyptian members of parliament from the ruling party, a number of notabilities belonging to the same party and a well known promoter with the right connections. Apparently they had all been trying to get their hands on real estate belonging to the community and to others and to sell it to unsuspecting buyers by presenting fake powers of attorney and documents.
The story came to light when some Egyptian citizens thus victimized turned to the courts for redress. A man by the name of Tarek AlKady complained that he had been stunned to discover that houses on his land had been razed by promoter Bader Amer, who had already started building. No building permit had been requested or issued.
In another case, one Rafik Ramzy sued the same promoter and a Member of Parliament Yahya Wahdane, both of them having allegedly talked him into joining a consortium they had set up to buy plots in order to build, and then abandoned the project after he had paid his share.
In another case, it was Member of Parliament Muhammad Abd elNaby and some of his friends from the ruling party who sued Bader Amer, for allegedly selling them five parcels belonging to the Jewish Community for the sum of seven million pounds (four million having already been paid.) They found themselves unable to proceed since the documents purporting to be from the community turned to be fakes. (The whole story and the list of the properties fraudulently proposed for sale were published at great length in the Egyptian daily Al Shuruk dated April 2, 2010).
Because members of parliament were involved, justice acted – but only the promoter was tried for fraud and forgery and sentenced to five years in jail. During the trial some interesting new elements emerged, such as the fact that Bader Amer “happens to be” the brother in law of Yahya Wahdane, today a Member of Parliament but formerly in charge of Jewish Community affairs in the Internal Security apparatus.
Strangely enough, the public prosecutor found no proof of criminal activities regarding Wahdane, and the case was not brought to court. He also decided that it could not be proved that the other Member of Parliament, Muhammad Abd elNaby, and his friends, had in fact paid money for the properties of the community that they had allegedly bought: Therefore there had been no fraud.
All that was left was the accusation of having used faked documents leveled at Bader Amer. Police investigations demonstrated that Bader Amer had written in his own handwriting a power of attorney from the community and had made a fake court seal in order to “certify” the fake documents.
Bader Amer himself sued Member of Parliament Abd elNaby. He accused Abd elNaby of having invited him to become joint owner of a synagogue belonging to the community after elNaby told him ownership had been transferred to him and to another person. According to Amer he paid one million pounds for the property after the Member of Parliament showed him documents later proved as forgery. However according to the police he could produce no proof of his allegations and Abd elNaby was acquitted.
By a strange coincidence this selfsame synagogue seems now to be at the core of the case against the head of the Jewish community and the basis of her sentence.
It may be true that these sordid little stories are of no great interest to the general public outside Egypt. They do tend, however, to demonstrate that a small group of corrupt notabilities did conspire to obtain fraudulently choice pieces of real estate, using fake documents some of which purportedly from the Jewish community.
One is left with the uneasy feeling that the courts may have shown a great measure of leniency towards public figures associated to the ruling party: only the promoter paid the price, though it is not clear whether he is actually doing time on his five-year sentence. Furthermore, the press which had devoted so many columns to those affairs suddenly forgets all about them in its eagerness to convict the head of the Jewish Community.
Today, while a respectable woman, condemned without having had a chance to defend herself, finds herself pilloried by the press, one wonders what happened not only to justice but to honest reporting in Egypt.
Zvi Mazel is former Ambassador of Israel in Egypt and Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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