Billionaire Sawiris Says Climate In Egypt Deters Investors

Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris said a “police environment” in Egypt discourages investors, and vowed to return to the North African country that he says he left against his will.

“As long as you’re making the country live in this police environment what investment are you talking about?” he said in an interview with a private Egyptian channel that was posted online yesterday. “How can you expect someone to come invest in a country where he may be imprisoned?” The interviewer said Sawiris was speaking from London.

Since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, several Egyptian businessmen have been investigated or tried for corruption-related charges. A decline in investment as well as tourism has left the economy growing at the slowest pace in two decades.

Sawiris’s brother, Orascom Construction Industries Chief Executive Officer Nassef Sawiris, and his father, Onsi, were banned this month by Egypt’s prosecutor general from traveling and placed on an arrivals watch list. The two are accused of owing 14 billion Egyptian pounds ($2.1 billion) in back taxes, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported March 3. The company has denied violating any laws.

Naguib Sawiris, who has criticized President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, said he sold the ONTV television channel after his family said political positions taken by the broadcaster sparked the tax allegations against them.

Targeting Opponents

“I wanted to prove to them that I am not the cause,” he said. “I sold the channel and the issue is still continuing because there is targeting.” The tax demands “have no legal base,” according to Sawiris.

Sawiris, a Christian media and telecommunications billionaire, co-founded a secular political party after the 2011 uprising.

He accused the Islamists who have gained power of seeking to impose their will and not wanting to cooperate with the opposition. Similar accusations have fueled protests that have increasingly boiled over into violent clashes, hampering efforts to revive the economy.

Morsi’s supporters say frequent protests undermine stabilization efforts.

“It’s clear that you have a project for the Brotherhoodization of the state and for retribution from your enemies,” he said. “As an opposition figure, I want to be able to oppose and not be imprisoned for it. This is my right.”

Sawiris said he left Egypt because of “the will of my enemies” and will return “when there’s a real democratic situation.”