Thursday, July 29, 2004

Background/ A Who's Who of corruption in Arafat's Palestine

Background/ A Who's Who of corruption in Arafat's Palestine
By Bradley Burston, Haaretz Correspondent July 29,2004
From the start, the intifada was an uprising with two targets.   The first goal, that of winning Palestinian statehood by force, now seems more distant than at any time in more than a decade.   The second, that of rooting out pervasive corruption within Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority, may yet prove even harder to attain.   In the eyes of much of the world, the long spasm of Palestinian violence was fueled solely by fury over occupation. But the bottomless well of rage also tapped years of grass-roots resentment over graft in the Authority, which in the eyes of its constituency had sapped, diverted, misspent and squirreled away fortunes; funds which could have helped meet the humanitarian needs of more than three million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
How widespread is corruption in the PA, and how deeply rooted?   Murky overlays of complex and questionable bookkeeping have stymied efforts to follow the money trails that crisscross Arafat's Authority.   There is also a firewall of secrecy shielding Arafat's much-rumored Second Treasury, or slush fund, believed to be the central vehicle for largesse and the loyalty it underwrites.   The fund, said to total nearly a half billion dollars, is thought to be used to pay senior PA officials multiple salaries for non-existent government positions; to finance villas, vacations and even lavish weddings for PA brass and their children; and, through intermediaries, pay for the violent operations of the Fatah Al-Aqsa Martyrs and other armed groups.
The same lack of transparency that has made it all but impossible to prove allegations of graft, has also reinforced the popular perception that the entire senior leadership is on the take, with the signal exception of one man whose ascetic, breathing-martyr lifestyle has no room for mammon, Yasser Arafat himself.   The picture is further darkened, and Palestinian ire deepened, by the fact that in several cases, the closer the contact that PA officials have had with Israel , the wider their range of options for graft, including bribes paid to lubricate the process of obtaining crucial permits from both the Jewish state and the Palestinian state in the making.   The following is a selected Who's Who of perceived corruption in the Authority.
GENERAL MUSA ARAFAT   Cousin of the PA chairman, Musa Arafat is seen by many Palestinians as one of the two most corrupt officials in the Authority.   Much of the current rage at Musa Arafat stems from his past association with Kamal Hamad, once considered the most senior collaborator with Israel in the Gaza Strip.   The charges recall allegations that Musa Arafat collaborated with Jordanian officials during the Hashemite kingdom's bloody1970 Black September operation to drive out the PLO.   In apparent exchange for a pardon Hamad received from Yasser Arafat over collaboration charges, Hamad is reported to have given land to the early Palestinian Authority. Hamad is also believed to have given Musa Arafat a free apartment in one of the buildings Hamad owns in the Strip.   Later, Hamad is thought to have returned to aiding Israeli security authorities, particularly in the 1996 killing of Hamas suicide bomb mastermind Yihyeh Ayyash.   According to Hamad's nephew, Osama, a Hamas activist who had been sheltering the bombmaker in his apartment at the time of the assassination, Kamal Hamad had given him the cellular phone packed with explosives that blew up when Ayyash answered a call, decapitating the man Palestinians had hailed as the Engineer.   This month, Yasser Arafat touched off a brushfire revolt in Gaza when - in a move ostensibly made for the sake of reform - he responded to the brief kidnapping of Gaza 's police chief by naming Musa Arafat as head of General Security, a new agency which put Musa in charge of the PA's 23,000-25,000 armed regulars, in effect, the Palestinian army.
PRIME MINISTER AHMED QUREIA   A cement company owned by Qureia's family is alleged to have sold large quantities of cement for use in construction of West Bank settlements as well as for wall segments of the separation fence, including the tall concrete slabs which cut through Qureia's home town - and the company's base - Abu Dis. Shortly before the allegations were made public, Qureia had transferred ownership of the company to a relative - a move that only deepened suspicions among his accusers. The Palestinian cement industry has come under particular scrutiny by PA legislators attempting to probe corruption suspicions. Israel has imposed tough restrictions on the cement trade in the territories - but has relaxed the curbs for a select number of businessmen. In Gaza , for example, cement merchants close to ex-security official Mohammed Dahlan - the highest-profile voice for PA reforms - are said to receive preferential treatment by Israeli authorities, thus ensuring vastly enhanced profits.  
BRIGADIER GENERAL GHAZI JABALI   Chief of Palestinian Police in the Gaza Strip since 1994. Viewed by some as Arafat's "enforcer" to curb dissidents. Fired several times, for corruption among other charges, repeatedly reinstated by Arafat.   Trusted by the PA chairman but by few others, Jabali is profoundly unpopular among Palestinians and is viewed as one of the most corrupt of all PA officials. This month, in the latest of a series of attacks against Jabali, armed militants fought a gun battle with his bodyguards, kidnapping him briefly. Parading him through a refugee camp, they publicly accused him of stealing as much as $22 million in PA monies.
FOREIGN MINISTER NABIL SHAATH   Shaath is suspected of having used his position, mobility, and contacts as the PA's longtime minister of planning and international cooperation in order to increase his sizable wealth and his business interests across the Arab world. As early as 1997, the Palestinian Legislative Council took the rare step of publicly demanding that Shaath be sacked, brought to trial for gross corruption, and sentenced to prison. The PLC was acting in response to a report by the Palestinian State Controller, who found that nearly half of the PA's $326 million 1997 budget had been "lost through corruption or financial mismanagement." The next year an official PLC commission of inquiry into Shaath's dealings declared that it had found evidence of criminal corruption. In the end, Shaath, a key peace negotiator, stayed on in his post. Last year, when Mahmoud Abbas became prime minister, he promoted Shaath to foreign minister.
SUHA ARAFAT   In February, French prosecutors said they had opened an investigation into millions of dollars in transfers from an unnamed "Swiss institution" into two separate Paris bank accounts held by Yasser Arafat's wife Suha, who lives in the French capital with the couple's daughter and Suha's mother, Raymonda Tawil. The location of Suha Arafat's residence has been kept secret, but media reports have said the three occupied an entire floor at the posh Bristol Hotel. The hotel has denied the reports. Apart from the alleged transfers, she reportedly receives some $100,000 a month from the Palestinian Authority treasury. The French investigation is focusing in its initial stage on transfers totalling nine million euros, or $11.5 million, to accounts at the Arab Bank and the Banque Nationale de Paris in the name of Suha Arafat, made over the period of a year beginning in June 2002. In September last year, the International Monetary Fund made public the results of a special audit of PA financial practices. IMF senior auditor Karim Nashashibi charged that as much as $900m had been diverted between 1995 and 2000 into "a special account controlled by Yasser Arafat". The IMF report also found that a total of $74 million had been earmarked for Yasser Arafat's office, but that there was no explanation for the intended uses of the allocation.
REFORMERS UNDER SUSPICION   There are also indications that several Palestinian figures in the forefront of demands for PA reform have in the recent past been on the receiving end of substantial sums of a questionable nature.   One of the two men often cited in this regard is Dahlan, the sharply tailored national security chief under Abbas, who had extensive contacts with Israeli officials in his former roles as a lead peace negotiator on security issues and as head of the Preventative Security Service in the Gaza Strip, the agency charged with heading off terror attacks against Israelis.   Asked where he obtained the wherewithal to purchase the luxurious home of onetime Gaza City mayor and wealthy landowner Rashid Shawwa for a reported $600,000, Dahlan told a reporter that the price had actually been $400,000, and that the funds had all been granted him according to bylaws set down by the Fatah movement.   There is also the case of former negotiator and ex-PA minister of information Nabil Amr, shot twice in the leg at his home in Ramallah last week, minutes after having returned from a television interview during which he criticized Arafat's Authority for unwillingness to reform.   Commented one Palestinian source, comparing Amr's spacious residence to the small, spartan apartment of jailed Fatah West Bank leader Marwan Barghouthi: "Amr waited until he built his villa and married off his daughter, all on funds given him by Arafat, before setting out on his crusade against corruption."

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