The employees of the American and European NGOs have been charged with operating in Egypt without licenses. An investigation by authorities revealed that the organizations received millions of pounds from abroad under the names of NGO employees and not through their official bank accounts.
Ashraf El-Ashmawi and Sameh Abu Zeid, the two judges handling the cases, said the charges could lead to five-year prison sentences.
“These organizations conducted unlicensed and illegal activities without the knowledge of the Egyptian government,” said El-Ashmawi. “Documents confiscated during the raids on the NGOs offices confirm illegal foreign funding.”
Documents also showed that foreign workers employed by the NGOs deliberately had tourist — not work — visas, and did not pay taxes.
Khalid Abu Bakr, a civil rights lawyer in Cairo, said the 43 suspects would have to be present in court, inside the iron cage that holds defendants in Egyptian criminal trials. Authorities said a travel ban has been imposed on the suspects.
“Suspects will not be detained but those who do not attend will be issued an arrest warrant,” Abu Bakr told CNN.
He added that the defense lawyers would request a postponement in the hearing “until the witnesses give their testimonies and more details are presented.”
The court did allow the American counsel from the embassy to attend the trial.
Egyptian officials have blamed continuing unrest in their country on foreign interference they attribute, in part, to the organizations.
In December, authorities carried out 17 raids on the offices of 10 organizations, including the U.S.-based Freedom House, National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute.
Adel Saeed, a spokesman with the general prosecutor’s office, said the raids were part of an investigation into allegations that the groups had received illegal foreign financing and were operating without a proper license.