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Supplier’s Egyptian nightmare as €2m equipment ‘held hostage’

A Vienna-based event technology supplier has questioned Egypt’s ability to host major conferences after a dispute with a government-owned congress organiser left him EUR300,000 out of pocket – and facing further losses.

Hans Friis, co-founder of Vienna-based HR Eventconsulting, said GCM – Egypt had withheld payment of invoices and refused to release approximately four tonnes of equipment worth EUR2million following the UN’s Congress on biodiversity, COP14, in Sharm El-Sheikh, last year.

He said letters to the company’s CEO, Sherif Salem, former head of GOIEF, the country’s industry body for exhibitions and fairs, had been ignored as simultaneous interpretation and audio-visual equipment continued to be ‘held hostage’ in Customs at Cairo International Airport.

GCM – Egypt had refused to sign release papers for the equipment until it had received payment for an outstanding F&B invoice charged to COP14 owners, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. However this bill has now been paid and, despite the fact it had nothing to do with HR Eventconsulting, the equipment remains under lock and key six months after the event.

Friis has asked the Egyptian Minister for Tourism and conference host the Minister for Environment to instruct Mr Salem to release the equipment, but so far no action has been taken.

Friis said the matter was being taken seriously by the UN and had even been referred to the Egyptian Prime Minister but his confidence in the country had been shattered by events.

He also alleges that a Chinese delegate was detained by Egyptian security forces for alleged non-payment of a cocktail reception bill and claims South African delegates were harassed by hotel staff and made to pay their room accounts on a daily basis. Furthermore, he says Sharm El-Sheikh was subject to ‘random telecommunications’ blackouts that made working impossible.

“I have worked all over the world, but I have never experienced this level of incompetence, although incompetence is not really the right word. Those involved know what they are doing is unprofessional, illegal and against all business conventions. We find it shocking and bewildering that such blatant and unlawful behaviour is acceptable in today’s business and political world.”

Friis said if the situation was not resolved his company would be forced to take legal action.

AMI has contacted The Egyptian Minister for Tourism and Sherif Salem for comment, but so far received no response.