arafat:the truth

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    This is from today's Australian.

    How Arafat cheated his own
    John Kerin
    November 13, 2004
    YASSER Arafat was a ruler without a country presiding over an impoverished people, many of them refugees.

    But while posing as the austere champion of a future Palestinian state, Arafat was secretly accumulating a fortune in Swiss bank accounts and hidden assets spread across the world's leading tax havens.
    Since his death on Thursday, more details have emerged of the chaotic, unregulated and corrupt workings of the Palestinian Authority that Arafat and his inner circle controlled like a fiefdom.
    Former chairman of the Palestine International Bank Issam Abu Issa describes corruption as the cancer that permeated Arafat's administration, allowing him to reward his cronies with huge cash gifts and to siphon off foreign aid money either for his own use or other hidden projects.
    "Rather than use donor funds for their intended purposes, Arafat regularly diverted money to his own accounts," Issam claims in an article published in the latest edition of Middle East Quarterly.
    "It is amazing that some US officials still see the Palestinian Authority as a partner, even after US congressional records revealed authenticated PLO papers signed by Arafat in which he instructed his staff to divert donors' money to projects benefiting himself, his family and his associates."
    Issam sought Arafat's help to establish the bank in Gaza in 1995. But as the PIB grew more popular, Issam met increasing resistance from Arafat's inner circle, particularly his self-styled economic adviser Mohammed Rashid.
    "Arafat and top PA officials did not respect the rule of law. Many were corrupt," Issam said.
    "His animosity toward accountability thwarted efforts to establish a responsible leadership.
    "Arafat's men flagrantly displayed corruption. Arriving penniless in Gaza and the West Bank from exile in Tunisia, many PLO members amassed wealth, built villas in Gaza, Ramallah, Amman and other places and sent their children to the best schools in the United Kingdom and United States."
    Large amounts of donor funds from countries such as France and Germany were diverted through import-export companies linked to the Palestinian Monetary Authority, headed by Arafat stooge Amin Haddad, Issam claims.
    Other money was diverted into businesses run by Arafat's extended family and relatives of key lieutenants.
    In 1997, the Palestinian Authority Auditor's Office annual financial report found $US326 million -- 43 per cent of the annual budget -- was missing. A subsequent report recommended that two Arafat ministers, Jamil al-Tarifi and Nabil Sha'ath, be sacked. Both are still in the ministry.
    Concern about the scale of Arafat's corruption gathered pace in the last months of his life. Earlier this year, the European Union's anti-fraud office began auditing the PA's accounts after claims that about E350 million in aid had been misappropriated.
    It followed an International Monetary Fund audit a year ago which found that up to $US900 million had been redirected into Arafat's private accounts.
    American CBS TV network's 60 Minutes program reported late last year that more than $US300 million of the PA's funds were channelled into a private account at the Lombard Odier Bank in Geneva on Rashid's orders.
    On Forbes Magazine's rich list of heads of state, Arafat was ranked ninth in 2003 with a fortune totalling $US300 million. Recent Israeli Intelligence reports, however, estimate his personal fortune at as much as $US1.3 billion ($1.7 billion).
    His death, at the age of 75, has sparked a fight between his wife Suha and Palestinian leaders over who will inherit Arafat's fortune.
    Like his personal fortune, Arafat's unlikely marriage to the French-educated blonde Suha was initially kept secret from the Palestinian people. She was 27, a former student at the Sorbonne; he was 61. She would later concede that she'd "married a myth".
    When the current intifada uprising began in 2000, Suha moved to Paris full-time to live as a princess, taking rooms at the Hotel Bristol.
    Her designer suits cut a stark contrast to her husband's trademark military fatigues and checkered headscarf.
    According to Palestinian Authority finance ministry statements, she received about $US100,000 a month, but Israeli intelligence reports have suggested much more -- $US1 million a month. In 2003, French prosecutors began investigating the appearance of about $US10 million in her Paris bank account in 2003.
    Sydney University lecturer in Middle East politics Leanne Piggott said yesterday the stakes were high in the struggle to control Arafat's fortune.
    "He has hotels in Europe and the Cayman Islands, he raised millions through extortion from airlines in the 70s, which he invested in resorts and real estate," she said.
    Ms Piggott said the tug of war over Arafat's billions "could end up in the courts or it could end up some other way".
    "But if Arafat controlled the access to his bank account numbers the way he controlled everything else, then there's a real chance Swiss Banks may hold his fortune forever," she said.
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