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When Palestinian Authority Minister for Jerusalem Affairs Faisal Husseini died suddenly May 30, at the age of 61, he was hailed by the Western media and international diplomats as a fallen hero of political moderation – an example of the kind of leader who could bring Arabs and Jews together.
In addition, in some Arab quarters, his untimely death was blamed on the Israeli Mossad.
But when Israeli troops took control of Husseini’s Orient House Aug. 10 in response to a renewed terror campaign, they found evidence of massive corruption and misappropriation of over a billion dollars in funds and lands by the PA leader, according to an intelligence report by Debka-Net-Weekly.
In addition, the report says, the massive scandal was uncovered by officials of the gulf oil states Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates days before his mysterious death. The discovery prompted an angry confrontation between those representatives and Husseini, particularly over the disappearance of $1.8 million transferred to the Orient House by those nations between 1996 and 1998.
According to Debka’s sources, the entire $1.8 million — a fund for the development of tourism and new Hotels in East Jerusalem — was instead funneled into Hussein’s private bank accounts in Switzerland and Austria.
Orient House also built up a vast documentary falsification and forgery enterprise to divert moneys handed over for the Palestinian cause by Austria, Germany, the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Norway, Denmark and Sweden, according to the Debka report. The archives captured by the Israelis show Husseini and his staff had artistically altered the sums bid by contractors, increasing them tenfold. Alternatively they recycled old invoices without the contractors’ knowledge to show fictitious bids, Debka reports. Husseini deposited the sums accruing from this scam in banks in the Gulf Emirates.
In pursuit of the objective of keeping Arab land, buildings and properties out of the hands of Jewish purchasers, Orient House established an informal land registry office, corresponding to the official Israel Land Registry. Dozens of surveyors were employed to map out the locations of Palestinian property on both sides of Jerusalem and make sure it was not sold to Israelis, according to Debka.
Those surveyors may not have realized that in the process of rescuing properties worth some $150 million from Israeli purchasers, they were making large chunks of valuable estate available to Faisal Husseini. Hundreds of plots of land, vacant building sites and buildings were located whose legal owners were absent, some since 1967 when all Jerusalem came under Israeli rule.
Debka reports investigators studying the archives say the scale of document forgeries and fraudulent diversion of moneys is colossal. Because many of the owners lived in the United States or South America and were unable to return to claim their properties, Husseini was able to falsify the deeds of ownership and forge their signatures to transfer their properties to himself. Here, they say, private greed masqueraded successfully as a just Palestinian cause.
When rumors of the misappropriations reached some of the absentee owners, they sent anxious letters to Yasser Arafat and asked for his intervention to recover their stolen estates. Half a dozen letters from Arafat to Husseini were discovered in Orient House files demanding explanations for the property transfers. Husseini filed the letters without answering them.
The Orient House is a symbol of Palestinian claims to east Jerusalem as a future capital. Israel seized the compound in response to a suicide bombing by Palestinian militants in Jerusalem that killed 16 people, including the assailant.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon initially was quoted as saying that Israel would never give back the compound. However, his foreign minister, Shimon Peres, later said the closure order would be reviewed after six months.
The Orient House is owned by Faisal Husseinis’ heirs. The Husseinis are a prominent Palestinian clan in Jerusalem.