Arafat´s moneyman targeted in corruption probe (AP) Associated Press) By MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH and KARIN LAUB, RAMALLAH 05/16/12 1:39 pm ET)
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RAMALLAH, West Bank – The late Yasser Arafat´s powerful moneyman is
the target of the highest-profile Palestinian corruption probe to
date, facing allegations he syphoned off millions of dollars in
public funds, the chief investigator said Wednesday.
Anti-corruption campaigners lauded the case against the shadowy
former aide, Mohammed Rashid, as a sign of the maturing of the
Palestinian political system, although the probe also appeared to be
tinged with political intrigue.
Rashid, who has in the past denied wrongdoing, made veiled threats on
a website to disclose purported secrets about the rise to power of
Arafat´s successor, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. And
Palestinian watchdogs, while praising growing government vigilance
about corruption, expressed concern that such investigations are at
times being used selectively to settle personal scores.
The tall, dark-haired Rashid left the Palestinian territories after
Arafat´s death in November 2004, and his current whereabouts were not
immediately known. Rafik Natche, head of the Palestinian Anti-
Corruption Commission, said Rashid holds business interests in
Jordan, Egypt, Montenegro, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, and
that the Palestinian Authority has asked all five countries to freeze
his assets and extradite him.
An Iraqi citizen of Kurdish ancestry, Rashid befriended top PLO
officials in the 1980s.
From the 1994 establishment of the Palestinian Authority, a self-rule
government in parts of the West Bank and Gaza, to Arafat´s death a
decade later, Rashid was in charge of many of the Palestinian
leader´s financial dealings. The iconic Arafat was known for a frugal
lifestyle, but needed large sums to buy loyalty and allowed corrupt
practices by those in his inner circle.
It is not known why Arafat put Rashid, a former journalist without
formal business training, in charge of most of his business affairs.
Rashid "came to the Palestinian revolution without a penny in his
pocket and became a multimillionaire," Natche told The Associated
Press. "Where did he bring his money from? Of course, this is the
money of the Palestinian people."
Natche said Rashid is suspected of having taken millions of dollars
out of the Palestinian Investment Fund and the PLO´s treasury, as
well as setting up fake companies in his name and in the names of
relatives. "The money and the companies disappeared," Natche said,
In comments posted Tuesday on the website Inlightpress, Rashid said
he would not respond to the allegations now, but warned that
Abbas "made a huge mistake and must suffer the consequences." He did
not elaborate. The website, which is believed to be linked to Rashid,
announced in a separate section that it would soon run a series of
articles by Rashid about the circumstances of Abbas´ rise to power.
After keeping a low profile for years, Rashid started drawing
attention to himself with a series of interviews that the Arab
satellite TV station al-Arabiya began broadcasting last week. Rashid
told the station he was asked by Palestinian officials in 2008 to
provide documents about the investment fund, and that he told them
the documents were at the fund´s office. He said he has not been
contacted since then.
The first decade of the Palestinian Authority was marked by rampant
corruption and official mismanagement. During those years,
Rashid "ran a network of financial transactions outside the law and
outside the budget," said Azmi Shuaibi, a leading anti-corruption
campaigner in the West Bank.
In 2003, the international community, concerned about millions in
foreign aid going to waste, asked Palestinian economist Salam Fayyad
to supervise Palestinian Authority spending. Fayyad, now the West
Bank-based prime minister, is credited with providing greater
transparency. However, for years, little was done to go after those
suspected of stealing public funds.
Two years ago, Abbas set up the Anti-Corruption Commission and a
special court. So far, the commission has handled 85 cases, including
those of two Cabinet ministers who were forced to resign, but the
court has not yet handed down any verdicts, Natche said.
The commission filed charges of fraud, embezzlement and money-
laundering against Rashid on April 30. On May 8, the court urged
Rashid through an announcement in a local newspaper to surrender to
Palestinian authorities, Natche said. Rashid will be tried in
absentia if he cannot be brought to the Palestinian territories, he
Shuaibi praised stepped up efforts to go after government corruption,
but expressed concern about the way targets for investigation are
being chosen. He noted that Rashid is a longtime associate of former
Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan, who had a falling-out with Abbas last
year after seemingly challenging the president´s leadership. The
connection between Dahlan and Rashid created an impetus "to pursue
Rashid as well," Shuaibi said.
"I think the priorities (for investigations) are being set on a
personal basis," said Shuaibi. He said he told Abbas that "we have
concerns that the issue is being handled in a way of settling
personal scores." Shuaibi said Abbas told him all suspicions were
Officials in Abbas´ office declined comment. Natche said anyone can
approach the commission with information about alleged corruption,
but acknowledged that most of his leads come from government
Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian commentator, said Arafat´s continued
popularity made it difficult for investigators for some years to
launch a probe against Rashid. But enough time has passed since
Arafat´s death, Kuttab said, adding that "there is a strong public
sentiment against corruption." (© 2012 The Associated Press 05/16/12)
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