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Egypt decree keeps antiquities minister out of jail

By the CNN Wire Staff
Zahi Hawass says the appeals court issued a decree on Monday that will keep him out of jail and allow him to stay in his post.
Zahi Hawass says the appeals court issued a decree on Monday that will keep him out of jail and allow him to stay in his post.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Zahi Hawass gets year in jail, loses job for refusing to carry out a court order, CNN is told
  • The antiquities minister says an appeals court has decreed he will keep his job, not serve time
  • Charges stem from a lawsuit brought by the then-tenant of a Cairo Museum bookstore
  • The order came after the process he was to stop was already over, Hawass says

(CNN) -- Egypt's minister of antiquities said Monday that a one-year jail sentence and removal from his job for refusal to carry out a court ruling has been overruled by an administrative court decree.

A source from the Interior Ministry told CNN that Zahi Hawass was sentenced in criminal court on Sunday, but in a blog post on his website, Hawass called that "a complete misunderstanding," and wrote that the appeals court issued a decree on Monday that will keep him out of jail and allow him to remain in his position.

Hawass is renowned as one of the world's leading experts on Egyptian antiquities. He was appointed minister of antiquities affairs in January by then-President Hosni Mubarak, before weeks of civil unrest led to Mubarak's resignation. Previously, Hawass was secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The Interior Ministry source told CNN on Monday that the sentence was not a post-revolutionary political act, but was imposed strictly for his failure to carry out the court order.

The sentence was related to a charge that Hawass, acting as secretary general of the SCA, refused to carry out an order to stop the bidding process last year for companies to run a bookstore in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Hawass, however, claimed he could not have enforced the ruling because it came "when it was too late to do anything."

The court order was issued in early June 2010 on behalf of the museum bookstore's tenant at the time, who felt he should keep his contract, Hawass said. However, the new company had been chosen in late May, before the trial in the lawsuit began, and representatives of the Supreme Council of Antiquities "did not have time to present evidence that the bidding had finished."

Further, Hawass said, a court in November ruled "that I was innocent, because as the secretary general of the SCA, I was not in charge of legal affairs at the SCA, this was under the control of the Ministry of Culture at that time."

However, the plaintiff "brought the case to the court again" claiming to have evidence Hawass was in charge of legal affairs for the council. Hawass said the SCA didn't have a legal representative at the court, which then imposed the sentence.

"This is how the court in Egypt works, and this is not an uncommon thing that the head of an organization gets sentenced like this," Hawass wrote. "... I respect the laws of my country very highly, and the rulings of our courts. I intend to handle this matter entirely within our legal system. Nothing will cause me to lose focus from my goal of protecting the sites of Egypt."

CNN's Dina Amer in Cairo and Cameron Tankersley contributed to this report.