Egypt's Supply Ministry deputy arrested over alleged food price corruption

Number of arrests made after sharp rise in price of sugar and other essential food items

A motorcyclist carrying bread in Cairo. Foodstuffs such as sugar, rice and cooking oil have been seized as part of a criminal inquiry in Egypt. EPA
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A number of Egyptians were arrested on Tuesday over their suspected involvement in a profiteering ring that has allegedly been withholding large quantities of essential food from the country’s markets to drive up prices, a state-affiliated TV channel reported.

Those arrested included the deputy minister for price regulation and distribution of supplies, media outlets said. He is accused of taking large bribes from private companies to withhold items such as sugar, rice and flour from Egypt’s markets to drive up prices.

A number of civilians were also arrested on suspicion of involvement in the scheme.

The arrests came after an investigation by Egypt’s Administrative Control Authority into the recent price rises for essential foods, such as sugar, which is currently selling at 60 Egyptian pounds ($2) per kilo, a record high, compared to just over 12 pounds in May.

Long queues of shoppers outside grocery shops have become a common sight in Egypt over the past month as sugar supplies have dwindled, resulting in the sharp rise in price.

Aside from being unable to find it in most shops, Egyptians have been paying black market prices when they are able to buy sugar.

Ali Al Moselhi, Egypt's Supply Minister, gave a lengthy interview on a pro-government talk show last week to answer citizens' concerns over the rising price of sugar.

He said there was enough to cover the nation's needs but distribution issues were disrupting trade.

Seized foodstuffs

About 900 tonnes of sugar were seized by authorities as part of the investigation, according to pro government media.

Investigators have also accused Supply Ministry officials of accepting bribes to allow poor-quality goods to be distributed.

A second inquiry, launched by Egyptian prosecutors, led to the seizure of 590 tonnes of sugar, 45 tonnes of cooking oil and 18 tonnes of rice, a statement on Tuesday said.

The seized commodities have since been handed to the Supply Ministry to be distributed through official channels.

Prosecutor general Mohamed Shawki Ayad said he had "referred anyone implicated by the evidence it found to the relevant courts”.

Mr Al Moselhi promised Egyptians sugar prices would start dropping by December 15.

However, whether the arrests will affect the price significantly is being questioned by a number of Egyptians on social media.

“So will sugar prices go down or are they empty words? Of course they are empty words!” one wrote online.

Those arrested were not named in the report, causing anger among some of Egypt's 105 million population.

“Why not reveal the deputy’s name? To save his reputation or because the whole report is a smokescreen?” asked Yasser Shaker in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

Some commentators have drawn parallels between the arrests of Supply Ministry officials to the arrest of two deputies in the ministry in 2018 shortly before the election, which President Abdel Fattah El Sisi won.

The next presidential elections are set for December 10, with Mr El Sisi expected to win again.

“A Supply Ministry deputy? What this really means is a sacrificial lamb ahead of the presidential election,” wrote Qatari lawyer Abdulla Al Tamimi in a post on X on Wednesday.

Others questioned why Mr Al Moselhi himself had not been implicated in the alleged corruption.

A price-control scheme announced by the government in October was widely touted as a promotional tool for Mr El Sisi’s presidential campaign.

Though it did succeed in bringing down prices initially, the scheme soon collapsed and essential food items soared in price once again.

Updated: December 06, 2023, 12:02 PM