Egypt’s former tourism minister Zuheir Garranah (R), former housing minister Ahmed al-Maghrabi (L), and former senior member of the National Democratic Party (NDP) Ahmed Ezz (C) sit behind bars during a hearing in their trial on suspicion of diverting public funds in Cairo on February 23, 2011. — AFP Photo

CAIRO: An angry crowd of hundreds taunted three former high-ranking members of ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s regime as they arrived in court for a corruption hearing, screaming “thieves” and “you robbed our money.”

Egyptian authorities also imposed a travel ban on two former ministers and the head of state TV and radio — a measure that often serves as a prelude to a criminal investigation and a possible trial, the official MENA news agency said. The move is the latest from Egypt’s new military rulers against stalwarts of the former regime.

The three former top officials who appeared in a Cairo Criminal Court on Wednesday _ ex-Housing Minister Ahmed Maghrabi, former Tourism Minister Zuheir Garana and steel tycoon and prominent ruling party leader Ahmed Ezz — wore white prison uniforms and sat in a metal cage as a judge issued a ruling blocking any commercial dealings in the men’s properties.

Maghrabi shouted out from behind the cage: “I will not be a scapegoat. I am innocent.”   Ezz and Garana also said they are innocent.

The trio, who face allegations that range from money laundering to abuse of authority and squandering state wealth, are among some dozen ex-ministers and businessmen who are under investigation. The protesters who ousted Mubarak in 18 days of demonstrations against his regime often mentioned the deep corruption of the government as a key reason behind their movement.

The popular anger felt against such former regime powerbrokers was evident Wednesday. As the vehicles carrying Maghrabi, Garana and Ezz drove through the streets of Cairo to the courthouse, dozens of cars followed them honking and people chanted “there are the thieves.”

When the men arrived at court, more than 500 people standing outside the building shouted at them, “thieves” and “you robbed our money.”

The travel ban was slapped on former Prime Minister Atef Obeid, who served as premier from 1999 to 2004, as well as long-serving Culture Minister Farouq Hosni and state TV and radio chief Osama el-Sheiky. The same restrictions were also imposed on nine businessmen deemed to have cushy ties with the Mubarak regime.

Also Wednesday, hundreds of low-ranking police officers set fire to parts of the security headquarters after four days of protests to demand better salaries, a security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement that the officers numbered about 500 and that most of them had been sacked earlier and were demanding their jobs back.

Also, security officials said an Egyptian border guard was shot dead near the country’s border with Israel in the Sinai peninsula. Gunmen earlier attacked a security building on the Egyptian side of the town of Rafah on the border with the Palestinian Gaza Strip, they said.

The area is home to Bedouin tribes who resist government control, and officials there say tribesmen have joined forces with Islamic militants, some of whom escaped from prisons during the uprising. Armed groups have bombed the state security building in Rafah in the past.

Updated Feb 24, 2011 08:24am

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