Friday, November 12

Arafat's Millions

According to an article in Forbes Magazine last year, the late great Yasser Arafat was among the richest men in the world. Question: where did he get his booty? He didn't run a company. He never invented a product. He didn't sell off any intellectual property. He did not come into a grand inheritance. He never even won the lottery. Nevertheless, he was rich. Extraordinarily rich. Super rich. So where did he get it all?

The answer of course, is that he looted his own impoverished people, the Palestinians. Now American and European government investigators want access to Arafat's secret bank accounts to see if he looted them as well.

Speculation over Arafat's secret bank accounts is nothing new. Last year the International Monetary Fund attempted to give an accounting of the magnitude of Arafat's shadowy assets--estimating that they probably topped $300 million. But now, suspicious State Department and European Union officials are wondering whether they may have inadvertently contributed to the Palestinian leader's private piggy bank. It is altogether unclear if or to what degree international aid was abused by Arafat and his terrorist cronies in Hammas and Fatah. But the money trails from the public coffers to the back pockets seem to abound. There are grave concerns for instance over $900 million that disappeared from Palestinian Authority accounts, trickling out through a murky system of bank accounts and bogus firms.

Between 2002 and 2003, the European Union paid over $10 million monthly to the Palestinian authority without any controls, according to Armin Laschet, a Christian Democratic Union member of the European Parliament and co-chair of the oversight committee responsible for Palestinian aid. Last year, he and other EU officials stated that they "would be surprised" if any allegations of fraud could actually ever be proven.

Well, surprise!

Of course, all this leads to a difficult bureaucratic dilemma. The foreign aid officials in the US and the EU who decide the allocation of funds to the troubled Middle East are going to have to make some really tough decisions. They all now reluctantly acknowledge that corruption and nepotism have very likely long been rampant in the Palestinian territories. But no one wants to worsen the poverty or political crisis in the region by suddenly cutting off aid--as if things could actually be much worse than they are. The US and the EU have together given about $3 billion to the Palestinian Authority over the past 10 years. It now appears likely that a goodly proportion of that money never made it to the poor people for which it was intended. What to do? Oh dear, what to do?

Meanwhile, French investigators have their sights on Arafat's wife, Suha Arafat, for money laundering. French officials said they have proof that more than $1 million has been diverted during the last few weeks to her personal Swiss bank accounts. But the source of the money remains unclear. European officials suspect the money is flowing in from European Union accounts but have no proof.

In August, Palestinians held in Israeli prisons accused Arafat and other senior Palestinian officials of diverting foreign aid dollars to terrorists groups like Hammas. Those allegations followed the emergence of several damning documents in July showing that Arafat wired over $5 million--possibly from international aid funds--to a personal bank account in Cairo just before September 11, 2001.

The big question is: why is any of this horrendous mess a surprise? Did the bureaucrats in charge of dispensing these foreign aid extravaganzas really expect a hardened ideological terrorist to act honorably with the millions, even billions tossed into his lap? I mean, really? Please!

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