CNN.com: IRI Chairman to Meet With NGO Workers in Egypt
CAIRO — A delegation of three U.S. senators, including Arizona Sen. John McCain, were in Egypt on Monday to meet with the country’s military leaders and discuss the case of 19 American workers who face charges as part of an Egyptian crackdown on nongovernmental organizations.
“I think this is a very difficult situation,” McCain told ABC’s “This Week.” “I am not a negotiator, but I think it’s important that I and the other senators in the delegation explain to the Egyptian leadership … that this is a serious situation, has serious implications for our relationship.”
The delegation also includes Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman. The visit is part of a pre-planned trip.
McCain said that while he will address the situation of the detained Americans, he will not attempt to negotiate their release.
“That is the job of the administration, but we will have conversations with military leaders and others who I have known for many, many years on a personal basis,” he said Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
The Americans are among 43 people accused in a case involving foreign funding. They are scheduled to appear in a criminal court Sunday, the spokesman for the Egyptian general prosecutor’s office said.
Among the Americans is Sam LaHood, the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
The younger LaHood is the director of Egypt operations for the International Republican Institute; McCain serves as IRI board chairman.
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, prosecutors said.
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.
The U.S. State Department said last week it had received a 24-page document from Egyptian authorities that lays out the charges against the staff of U.S. and international democracy-building groups.
Briefing reporters Friday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that its legal team had held a number of meetings since then.
“We continue to work very hard on these issues. So we need to let that work go forward and hope we can solve this,” she said.
Nuland has said no speedy resolution of the case was expected.
CNN’s Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Pierre Meilhan contributed to this report.