Court postpones Palm Hills land hearing until next month

An Egyptian court on Tuesday postponed hearing a lawsuit calling for the invalidation of a land contract for the Palm Hills luxury housing project, to which the government had allocated state land by direct order.

The plaintiff, Egyptian businessman Hamdi al-Fakharany–who won a similar lawsuit last month against the infamous Madinaty luxury housing project–claims the land was sold to the project owner at lower than market prices.

According to judicial sources, the Administrative Court postponed the hearing to 9 November.

Palm Hills is one of the largest private urban-development companies in Egypt, boasting a number of projects built over a total of 47.8 million square meters of land in Cairo and on the Red Sea coast.

The Palm Hills luxury housing development is currently being built on 960,000 square meters of land on the capital's outskirts.

Al-Fakharany said that land for the project was sold for LE250 (roughly US$45) per square meter, while Palm Hills was exempted from utility costs and taxes. The company was also granted unprecedented terms of payment by the government, which, al-Fakharany claims, translated into the waste of hundreds of millions of pounds of public funds.

Egypt's prime minister, housing minister and head of the New Urban Communities Authority were all named as defendants in the case.

Al-Fakharany claims that Housing Minister Ahmed al-Maghrabi owns stake in Palm Hills, despite the fact that the constitution prohibits ministers from purchasing state-owned land while they are in office.

The Administrative Court in June ruled to invalidate the land contract for the Madinaty project, which is owned by the Talaat Mostafa Group (TMG). TMG is owned by Talaat Mostafa, an Egyptian tycoon and, until recently, a senior member of the ruling National Democratic Party of President Hosni Mubarak.

The government later "rephrased" the contract to allow TMG to continue Madinaty on grounds that the project would realize "desirable social and economic returns."

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