BRUSSELS: EU ministers tackled an Egyptian request to freeze the assets of leading members of deposed president Hosni Mubarak’s regime Tuesday, but stopped short of tough immediate action.
"We discussed the subject," said German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble before he left similarly inconclusive talks among counterparts on closer economic integration.
"The Egyptian government has lodged a request with several states, ourselves included, and we are looking into it," he went on. "This will be decided quickly."
A spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, who was on a visit to Israel and the West Bank, said the issue would go to European Union foreign ministers at scheduled Sunday evening talks.
Britain’s finance minister George Osborne pushed the issue over a breakfast meeting in Brussels, a senior EU source said, but a bid to get all 27 states to sign up to a political statement stalled.
A press conference is scheduled for around 1300 GMT.
With foreign security experts picking up the debate, France said it would place accounts — including Mubarak’s own — under heightened surveillance, applying extra "vigilance."
Britain, Germany and France were each asked by Egypt to freeze the assets of former regime officials — although not the deposed president himself.
British foreign minister William Hague on Monday pointed to the similar course of action taken with Tunisia, whose president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali was toppled last month in a popular revolt which lit the fuse for the mass protests that deposed Mubarak.
"If there is any evidence of illegality or misuse of state assets we will take firm and prompt action," he said.
Mubarak stepped down last Friday after 30 years of rule but remains in Egypt, holed up in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.
French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said the EU needed to examine "how to join together to provide support for the democracy movement taking root" right across the region, including the likes of Tunisia and Algeria.
Britain’s government has been under growing pressure to freeze funds belonging to Mubarak and his entourage amid reports they stashed millions of pounds in accounts in Britain and elsewhere.
The diplomatic moves came as Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit called on the international community to help speed its economic recovery after the two-week revolt.
A member of a caretaker cabinet that military rulers have said will serve until a new government is formed following free elections, he called on "international parties to provide aid to the Egyptian economy, which has been severely affected by the political crisis that has shaken the country," his ministry said.
A wave of strikes threatened to paralyze the Egyptian economy.