Egypt on Wednesday charged five leading members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, including a Saudi, with money laundering and raising funds abroad, in the latest government effort targeting the country's largest opposition movement.
Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud ordered the five to be tried by a State Security Emergency court, a tribunal with looser standards of evidence whose rulings cannot be appealed.
Only one of the suspects is currently in custody, the rest, including the Saudi, were charged in absentia.
The name given by Egyptian prosecution for the Saudi national is identical to that of a prominent Saudi cleric, who has previously denied any connection with the Brotherhood.
The group's lawyer Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsoud said he was not able to confirm the identity of the accused.
It is the first time a foreigner has been charged, in an apparent escalation of the government's crackdown against the group ahead of this year's legislative elections.
The government has been facing a rising tide of calls for democratic reforms. The Brotherhood remains the most organized opposition, with thousands of members and a fifth of the seats in parliament.
‘A message to instill fear’
The accused also include a prominent Egyptian cleric, who was expelled from Bahrain to South Africa in 2008 for his views on the Iraq war. A third is a prominent member of the group in Britain who was already been convicted in Egyptian courts in the 1960s on charges of attempting to revive the banned group.
The accused are charged with raising money for the Muslim Brotherhood through conferences in England under the pretext that the funds were for Islamic charities.
The suspect in detention, the owner of a money changing operation, is accused of laundering the money through various projects in Egypt. Investigation into the case started in May.
"This is a message to instill fear and defame the group by accusing it of money laundering," Abdel Maqsoud said, while maintaining that it would not affect the group's decision to run in elections.
The group, founded in 1928, was banned in 1954 on charges of using violence. But it has since denounced violence, expanded its international presence and participated in Egyptian elections as independents.
Since the group's dramatic wins in the 2005 elections, the government has carried out a series of crackdowns, targeting its top leadership and its sources of income.
Three leading members, including the group's No. 2, were released on bail on April 7 after two months in jail and are still facing charges of planning to overthrow the government.