U.S. government ultimately paid bail for Egypt NGOs

WASHINGTON Fri Mar 2, 2012 11:55pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The bail paid for U.S. pro-democracy activists facing charges in Egypt ultimately came from the U.S. government, the State Department said on Friday.

Egyptian authorities had accused the workers, including the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, of working for groups receiving illegal foreign funding and had barred them from leaving the country.

The case put at risk $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid to Egypt, a cash transfer that began flowing after Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979, and it marked the deepest rift in U.S.-Egyptian relations in decades.

The travel ban was lifted this week and the U.S. State Department on Friday said 13 foreign workers -- six of them U.S. citizens -- had left Egypt on a private plane. The amount of bail paid for the U.S. citizens was set at about $330,000 each.

LaHood and three other activists from the International Republican Institute (IRI) arrived in the United States on Friday evening, a representative of the organization said.

Out of a total of 43 foreign and Egyptian workers who have been charged in the case, 16 were U.S. citizens and seven of those were in Egypt and had been subject to the travel ban. One of the seven chose to remain in Egypt, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

The State Department declined to name the people, some of whom worked for the IRI and the National Democratic Institute, U.S.-funded nongovernmental organizations that seek to promote democracy abroad.

Nuland said the money to pay the bail ultimately came from the U.S. government, saying that the Obama administration had agreed to treat the legal expenses stemming from the incident "as part of the activities that the U.S. government funds."

"The NGOs paid the bail out of money that they received from the U.S. government," she said. "We agreed to this because the situation arose in the context of the democracy promotion work that they were doing that we had funded and supported."

Nuland said that it was up to the U.S. citizens who had left to decide whether to return to Egypt to face the charges.

She was unable to say whether the money would be forfeited to the Egyptian government if they did not, or whether the money would be returned to the NGOs or to the U.S. government if they return to stand trial.

"Our hope and expectation is that we can get this case dismissed," she said, saying that if it was dismissed the questions about the bail would "presumably" be resolved.

(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Stacey Joyce and Eric Walsh)

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