September 7, 2015 / 12:46 PM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 2-Egypt's agriculture minister arrested after resignation

(Recasts with arrest, adds comments from a source close to the matter)

By Ahmed Mohammed Hassan

CAIRO, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Egyptian authorities on Monday arrested the country’s agriculture minister over corruption allegations, security sources said, just after his resignation was announced.

The prime minister’s office released a statement earlier in the day saying Salah El Din Mahmoud Helal’s resignation had been accepted on the instruction of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

“He was arrested in connection with a corruption case involving illegal land licenses,” a security official said. “He is under investigation.”

Helal could not immediately be reached for comment.

Egypt, the world’s largest importer of wheat, has embarked on a series of reforms designed to strengthen an economy battered by political turmoil since an uprising toppled president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The arrest comes weeks before a long-delayed parliamentary election is due to be held in the most populous Arab state after security forces launched a crackdown on the government’s Islamist opponents in an effort to create stability and encourage foreign investment.

In July, the agriculture ministry banned cotton imports in order, it said, to boost local production. Egypt grows a high-quality and extra-long staple cotton, once known as “white gold”, but output has been shrinking for years.

Eight days later, the cabinet reversed the decision, giving no reason beyond saying this was in the context of “developing cotton farming and supporting its farmers”, in what was seen as a U-turn that raised questions about the government’s management of the economy.

An Egyptian official suggested the minister was sacked because of mismanagement.

“There was a host of factors leading up to this decision as he wasn’t taking full charge of his ministry and decisions coming out of it were often at odds with other ministries like the trade and industry ministry,” the official said.

“There was obvious confusion to decisions on rice and cotton.”

Additional reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Dale Hudson

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