The president and chief executive officer of Egypt’s largest Internet company has been charged in New York with allegedly trying to defraud the international American aid agency, the US Attorney’s office said.

LINKdotNET’s Khaled Bishara was arrested on July 10 after arriving in New York and released after paying $300,000 (243,000 euro) bail and surrendering his passport, officials at the US Attorney’s office in New York said on Tuesday.

A preliminary hearing has been set for next month, the US Attorney’s office said. Bishara has not yet entered a plea.

Bishara’s company is one of the region’s largest Internet firms. With US computer giant Microsoft, it launched a Middle East-tailored Web portal, MSN Arabia, in 2001. LINKdotNET is also a subsidiary of Egypt’s Orascom Telecom, which claims to be the largest GSM network operator in the Middle East, Africa, and Pakistan.

The charge relates to Bishara’s bid, on behalf of LINKdotNET, to obtain a United States Agency for International Development loan of about USD2 million (about 2 million euro at the time) in 2001 to buy Lucent Technologies Inc. computer equipment through an American supplier, identified as CyberCrossing.

The loan was obtained under USAID’s commodity import programme. The American government provides interest-free loans to Egyptian companies to purchase US-made commodities. The companies later repay the loans in Egyptian pounds to the Egyptian government, which must use the funds to finance development projects here.

A USAID affidavit, obtained by The Associated Press, alleges that instead of spending all the money on the American equipment from an American supplier, Bishara’s company “illegally used the funds both to pay a past debt and to purchase equipment” from an Egyptian telecommunications firm, the Saudi Egyptian Logistics and Electronics Company.

Megan Gaffney, a spokeswoman for the US Attorney’s office in New York, said Bishara “has been charged with devising a scheme to defraud” USAID. Though the affidavit mentioned an unnamed coconspirator, no one else has yet been charged.

Omar Fahmy, LINKdotNET’s marketing manager, told the AP Bishara was in America to resolve an “administrative” issue and that his company had repaid the money in question about one year ago to USAID. Fahmy declined to comment on the federal charges against Bishara. Officials from parent company Orascom Telecom had no immediate comment.

Khaleej Times