Esmat Sadat, the brother of late president Anwar Sadat, went on trial before a special court of ethics today on charges of corruption, tax evasion, fraud, black-market dealings and influence peddling.
Indicted on similar charges are one of Esmat Sadat's wives, Zineb, six sons, one daughter and two in-laws. Sons Galal and Talaat appeared alongside their father in the dock, all three brought under police guard from prison.
The prosecution has asked that five members of the family be sentenced to a year in prison and that the property of all 11 -- estimated at more than $200 million -- be confiscated.
The four-man defense team pleaded today for more time to prepare its case, and Chief Justice Rifat Khafagi agreed to postpone the next session until Jan 9.
The trial is widely regarded as a test of President Hosni Mubarak's determination to clamp down on the widespread corruption that has accompanied the "open door" policy of encouraging free enterprise, initiated by Anwar Sadat in 1974.
Esmat Sadat, 58, was a bus driver earning less than $100 a month just before inception of the policy.
Although there is ample evidence that president Sadat knew his brother was using the family name to enrich himself and his sons, the late leader never took steps to put him on trial. He did, however, order him banned from all duty-free zones and the port of Alexandria, where Esmat allegedly procured the goods later sold at black-market prices.
The 24 charges against Esmat Sadat include defrauding several hundred persons who paid over $50,000 in down payments for apartments never built. Others involve buying and selling rotten meat, flour and powdered milk; trade in black-market housing materials, steel and pipes; illegal land dealings; collecting bribes and kickbacks, and failure to pay over $10 million in taxes.
Speaking to reporters from the dock, enclosed by iron bars, Sadat said, "I am not guilty. I am confident that I will not be convicted."
The courtroom was overflowing, with some standing on chairs to get a look at the Sadats. Family members exchanged kisses and greetings with Esmat Sadat and his two sons behind bars in the dock, while reporters and television crews interviewed them.
One woman, egged on by the crowd, screamed insults at the Sadats, who replied in kind. The audience cheered alternately the Sadats and the deputy prosecutor, Hosni Abdul Hamid. Birds flew in and out of the courtroom window.
The three Sadats in the dock all pleaded for a release from jail, where they have been held without bail for 52 days.
Galal demanded that the judges say why he, his father and brother were regarded as so "dangerous" as to be kept behind bars while drug smugglers and money changers also appearing before the court were allowed to go free pending trial.
"What crimes has the Sadat family committed when it has two martyrs, one who died the first day the 1973 war started and the other the same day," he bellowed out through a microphone, referring to the death in battle on Oct. 6, 1973, of Atif Sadat and the assassination of Anwar Sadat the same day in 1981.
Family members in the courtroom said Esmat Sadat is a full brother of president Sadat, not a half brother as was earlier reported by one of his lawyers. President Sadat kept his distance from Esmat and another brother suspected of questionable dealings, Talaat.
Defense lawyers said they had not seen key documents seized by the state prosecutor's office nor its accounting of the vast estate of Esmat Sadat, who is alleged to have property in eight provinces. The prosecutor said he had no objections to giving the defense access and more time to study the documents.