EU to unfreeze Egyptian, Tunisian assets

The European Union announced Monday it was lifting its asset freeze on Egyptian and Tunisian funds, imposed as sanctions before the countries' strongmen rulers were ousted in the Arab Spring uprisings.

The EU's council of ministers said it had taken steps to "facilitate the return of misappropriated funds to the Egyptian and Tunisian authorities" now that Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had been replaced by elected governments.

The council said it had adopted new legislation allowing the courts in individual EU member states to order the release of frozen assets once controlled by Mubarak, Ben Ali and their inner circles.

"Once the necessary judicial steps have been taken, this should enable the release and return to the Egyptian and Tunisian authorities of funds frozen under EU sanctions," it said.

"In addition, the amended legislation will facilitate the exchange of information between EU member states and the relevant authorities in Tunisia and Egypt so as to assist in the recovery of misappropriated funds."

The EU did not say how much money was involved.

Since January 2011, the EU had frozen the assets of 48 people accused of stealing Tunisian public funds, including Ben Ali, and 19 accused of stealing Egyptian public funds, including Mubarak.

EU diplomatic chief Catherine Ashton said returning the funds was a priority for the 27-member bloc.

"The EU will spare no effort to help return this money to the people of these two countries," she said.

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