CAIRO - An Egyptian court on Wednesday sentenced ousted president Hosni Mubarak to three years in prison on charges of stealing public funds.
"He should have treated people close and far from him equally," said Judge Osama Shaheen, as Mubarak looked on from a cage flanked by his sons, who were sentenced to four years in jail on the same charges. "Instead of abiding by the constitution and laws, he gave himself and his sons the freedom to take from public funds whatever they wanted to without oversight and without regard."
Judicial sources told Reuters that the 23 months Mubarak had spent in jail since the 2011 uprising up to August, when he left prison for house arrest, would be applied against the sentence, meaning the former president will probably serve no more than a year as punishment for the corruption charges.
His sons, who have already spent three years in jail, will also have to serve only one more year to complete their sentence, the sources said.
Four other defendants in the case were acquitted.
The embezzled funds had been assigned for the renovation of presidential palaces but instead were spent on sprucing up family properties.
Mubarak's former intelligence chief, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is poised to be elected president next week in polls that could bolster the legitimacy of a military-backed government.
The verdict may please some Egyptians who lived through three decades of autocracy under Mubarak, but analysts say that business executives still loyal to him remain influential. Rights groups say that abusive practices of the Mubarak regime are alive and well as another former military man prepares to take the reins of power.
Since former army chief Sisi toppled elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July, courts have handed down tough sentences to members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and to secular activists. The judiciary is seen by critics as a key tool in a state crackdown against all dissent to the army-backed government.
Wednesday's ruling was for a financial crime, not a criminal one. However, many prominent activists have recently been given harsher sentences for protesting than Mubarak received for embezzling millions while he served as president. Senior members of the Brotherhood, including the spiritual guide of the Islamist movement, have been sentenced to death.
Some activists, reacting to the verdict on Twitter, compared the sentence for Mubarak and his sons to a Tuesday ruling against Mahienour el-Masri, a young revolutionary activist. Masri was sentenced to two years in jail for protesting without a permit, violating a law passed in November that tightly regulates the right to protest.
Leaders of Mubarak's former ruling party were banned last month from running in any coming elections, but the court order did not list any names, drawing complaints that a lack of clarity could blunt the move's impact.
The court fined Mubarak and his sons 21.197 million Egyptian pounds ($2.98 million) and ordered them to repay about 125 million Egyptian pounds of funds the court said they had stolen. Mubarak, 86, wore a dark suit at the trial, while his sons wore white prison garb.
Alaa and Gamal became very wealthy businessmen during their father's presidency. Gamal, once widely seen as Mubarak's successor, and his brother were part of a strong patronage network that entrenched a system of "crony capitalism" that enriched an elite few while tens of millions of Egyptians lived in poverty.
Mubarak has been under house arrest at a military hospital since August pending retrial in a case of complicity in killing protesters during the 2011 uprising that ended his rule.
The website of state newspaper Al-Ahram reported that the court had ordered Mubarak transferred to Tora Prison, where his sons are jailed. His health may mean that he will be held at the prison's hospital.
He is also accused in two other cases of corruption that have yet to come to court.