Egypt: Mubarak Family Assets — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:22 am on 16th February 2011.

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Tabled By Baroness Williams of Crosby

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they have taken to freeze the financial assets of the Mubarak family held in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay Liberal Democrat 11:29 am, 16th February 2011

My Lords, with the permission of the House and at the request of my noble friend Lady Williams, who is attending a funeral, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper.

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, for well established operational reasons, the Government cannot comment on individual asset-freezing cases. The Government have received a request from the Egyptian Government to freeze the assets of several former Egyptian officials. We will of course co-operate with this request, working with EU and international partners as we have done in the case of Tunisia. If there is any evidence of illegality or misuse of state assets, we will take firm and prompt action.

Photo of Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I accept the point about individual cases, but will the Minister say how long he would expect SOCA normally to take to assess and approve a request of this kind? In particular, will the firm and prompt action that the Foreign Secretary has promised in this case be firmer and prompter than in the disgraceful case of President Daniel arap Moi of Kenya, who looted hundreds of millions from his people, and indeed of British taxpayers' aid, left a lot of it in London banks, and eight years on has still not had to pay back a penny?

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, there are a number of potential courses of action, but the principal one now is working with our EU partners, following a similar route to the one that was adopted in relation to Tunisia. My right honourable friend the Chancellor discussed the issue with his colleagues in the context of the ECOFIN meetings earlier this week. EU diplomats are discussing the issue this week and it will be on the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council meeting on Monday 21 February. It could decide to request the Commission to draw up a regulation similar to the one that was drawn up on Tunisia, which would be enforceable in all EU member states.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

The Minister referred to evidence of misuse of assets. Has any evidence of that nature been drawn to the Government's attention?

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, it would be wholly wrong to discuss individual cases. Indeed, it is a matter for the police and the Serious Organised Crime Agency, because in parallel to what I have described as the EU route is the principal relevant UK legislation, the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. Under that Act, it is for the police and SOCA to initiate as they see fit, and not for the Government to direct, any action on criminal activity that relates to proceeds of crime or money laundering.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Liberal Democrat

My Lords, given the many assertions that the Mubarak family and their acolytes are the ultimate beneficiaries of substantial funds that are now held by British financial institutions, does my noble friend agree that it might be timely to remind those financial institutions and their compliance officers of their obligations to report suspected money laundering so that those institutions might fully exercise their part in ensuring that any criminal funds are found and released in the appropriate way?

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

I am grateful to my noble friend. I have explained two parts of the construct: the EU angle and the Proceeds of Crime Act. Of course, it is highly relevant that banks are obliged under their normal reporting rules to file relevant reports if they see any suspicious activities. That relates particularly to any engagement and due diligence that is necessary in relation to politically exposed persons. This is a good opportunity, prompted by my noble friend, to remind the banks of their obligations under those ongoing rules, which I know the banks take extremely seriously.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Shadow Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales)

My Lords, the House will have gained a great deal of reassurance from the Minister's replies, particularly his first one, on this important topic. We all appreciate that additional requests could come in as the situation in Egypt evolves. Is the noble Lord able to give the House the full reassurance that the Government will be able to meet any request that should come in, given the degree of information that we have under the money laundering legislation?

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for recognising that the Government are actively on the case. Of course, in relation to requests that come in, it is then up to the appropriate investigating authorities to do whatever is necessary to gather the evidence. Our agencies are well able to do this, although we should recognise that there are always enormous challenges in these cases in tracing assets if that is what is required.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

My Lords, will the welcome action that the Minister describes be extended to cover our home and overseas dependent territories?

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

It is important that the overseas territories recognise, as they do, and have a desire to be fully compliant with, international best practice in these areas. We encourage them to take any action in parallel with that taken domestically.