Egyptian billionaire Sawiris returns home to warm welcome

Saturday 04-05-2013 11:54 AM
Egyptian billionaire Sawiris returns home to warm welcome

Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris smiles before a news conference in downtown Rome September 12, 2005. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi


Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris returned home on Friday, ending a self-imposed exile that began after the election of President Mohamed Mursi last year, and was warmly welcomed by a government grappling with an economic crisis.

Sawiris, one of Egypt's most prominent Coptic Christians and a critic of Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood, was greeted at Cairo airport by an envoy of the Islamist president who presented him with flowers.

Economists said his return was a boost to business sentiment which has been battered by political instability.

He came back days after officials cleared the firm run by one of his brothers of tax evasion. Authorities also lifted a travel ban against the brother, Nassef, chief executive of Orascom Construction Industries and their father Onsi, founder of the family's empire, Orascom Group.

OCI is Egypt's biggest listed company and the Orascom Group is the country's largest private employer.

Sawiris, who left Egypt last summer, is the executive chairman of another family firm, Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding.

He arrived on a private jet from France with his father and eight other family members, an airport official said.

Political upheaval and a decline in security has scared tourists and foreign investors from Egypt. Two weeks of talks with the International Monetary Fund last month failed to yield an agreement on a badly needed $4.8 billion loan.

Presidential spokesman Ehab Fahmy said Mursi's decision to send an envoy to receive Sawiris and his family was a "positive message" to "honourable businessmen", state news agency MENA reported.

The tycoon's return and the warm welcome he received from the presidency is a good sign that could have positive implications for the investment climate, Egypt-based economist Mona Mansour from CI Capital said.

Sawiris told Reuters he was "happy to be home" but declined further comment. He gave the president's envoy an envelope to deliver to Mursi, MENA reported.

His brother Nassef, Egypt's richest man, has not returned to Egypt although OCI said on Tuesday that it had agreed to pay 7.1 billion Egyptian pounds ($1.02 billion) to resolve the dispute.

Authorities issued the travel ban on Nassef and Onsi Sawiris in March as part of the tax evasion investigation into OCI.

At the time a friend of the family told Reuters it was issued when the men were out of the country. Under the order, they would have been detained on arrival if they returned.

Although Naguib was not included in the ban, he said in March that he had felt he had "no choice" but to leave Egypt due to the policies of Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood, according to state newspaper Al-Ahram.

Islamists have accused the Free Egyptians party that Sawiris helped to set up of funding anti-Mursi protests that frequently turned violent after the presidential election last June.

The party also took part in demonstrations last year over Mursi's seizure of extended powers. ($1 = 6.9414 Egyptian pounds) (Reporting By Maggie Fick; Editing by Pravin Char)

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