JEDDAH: ARAB NEWS
Friday 20 July 2012
Last Update 20 July 2012 4:53 am
An Egyptian lawyer whose arrest in April led to a diplomatic spat between Egypt and Saudi Arabia has been charged with drug smuggling and could face the death penalty, his lawyer said yesterday.
Ahmed El-Gezawi was arrested at King Abdulaziz International Airport for drug possession as he was trying the enter the Kingdom in April. His arrest led to demonstrations outside the Saudi Embassy in Cairo, where almost 1,000 people hurled insults at Saudi leaders, leading the Kingdom to recall its ambassador on April 28.
The case sparked protests in Cairo, prompting Riyadh to close its embassy there in a sign of its deepening anxiety about the future direction of a formerly close ally after last year's revolution.
The ambassador returned to Cairo a week later after high-level Egyptian delegations visited Riyadh to assure the Saudi authorities they were committed to the relationship. Saudi Arabia is a major donor of aid to Egypt.
"Yesterday was the first session in his trial. We received the list of charges and requested some time to present our defense so the case was delayed until Sept. 5," El-Gezawi's Saudi lawyer, Hesham Hanboli, told Reuters by telephone.
Wednesday's hearing was devoted to the formal declaration of charges and El-Gezawi's response and presentation of a defense will take place in the subsequent court session, the lawyer said.
El-Gezawi was charged with smuggling around 21,000 pills of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax. "The punishment for smuggling drugs can be the death penalty... and that is what the general prosecutor is asking for," Hanboli said.
Saudi authorities have allowed El-Gezawi’s wife to visit him and spend time with him for one and a half hours. Moreover, four lawyers have been allowed to defend him in court.
Amr Rushdi, spokesman of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, said Egyptian embassies and consulates abroad have funds or legal authority to appoint lawyers for the defense of Egyptians facing legal action abroad.
Wednesday’s was the first trial of the three accused including another Egyptian and a Saudi. The legal consultant at the Egyptian Consulate in Jeddah attended the trial. The public prosecutor has denied El-Gezawi’s claim that his confession was taken under duress. The court had asked the media not to take photos of the defendants.
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