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The door to the French military hospital where Yasser Arafat is said to have been declared clinically dead has been closed to all but family members while the rest of the Palestinian leadership watches helplessly.

The reason, says the global intelligence news service Geostrategy-Direct, is that Arafat continues to hold the purse strings to the Palestinian finances.

For the last decade, he was the final, and often only word on payment to everybody from the suicide bomber to the janitor. Not a dime was paid without Arafat’s OK.

Arafat has used PA funds to finance Palestinian terrorists for suicide and other attacks on Israel. The United States has designated Arafat’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade as a terrorist entity.

Before he left, Arafat approved a three-member emergency committee to operate the PA and PLO in his absence. Official said PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia was meant to run the PA’s daily affairs while former prime minister Mahmoud Abbas was appointed acting chairman of the PLO.

Palestine National Council chairman Salim Zaanoun, the third member of the committee, was said to be a symbolic figure.

Abbas and Qurei sought to acquire Arafat’s power to allocate money during the absence of the PA chairman. But as he boarded a Jordanian Air Force helicopter for Amman, Arafat refused.

“I’m still alive, thank God, so don’t worry,” Arafat was quoted as saying.

Arafat controls billions of dollars meant for the Palestinian people. In a word, he stole it, intelligence sources agree.

His personal fortune has been estimated at between $2 and $3 billion, most of it in Swiss bank accounts. He would have been worth a lot more were it not for the hard times in exile from 1982 until 1993, when Arafat was worth up to $5 billion, mostly through drug trafficking in Lebanon.

Arafat made his biggest killing over the last decade of the PA. Thanks to Arafat’s economic adviser, Mohammed Rashid, Arafat pocketed nearly $1 billion from both PA and Israeli revenues.

Israeli and Palestinian sources said Arafat’s Israeli partner was the late General Security Services senior official Yossi Ginossar, also a confidant of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Over a five-year period, Ginosar’s company, ARC, opened Swiss bank accounts for Arafat and deposited more than $900 million.

The biggest feat has been hiding that money. In 1997, the PA auditor’s office said in its financial report that $326 million, or 43 percent of the annual budget, was “missing.” Of the 57 percent of the budget that was accounted for, security forces took up 35 percent and Arafat’s office took up another 12.5 percent. This left 9.5 percent of the PA budget for anything that remotely resembled help to ordinary people.

The PLC, which determined financial mismanagement, appointed a committee to find the missing funds. The panel found that such ministers as Nabil Shaath, Talal Sidr and Yasser Abbed Rabbo spent plenty of money on personal items and confirmed the receipt of bribes by officials in the Civil Affairs Ministry.

The PA chairman was also said to have ordered the investment in the computer companies of Ali and Mazzan Shaath, sons of PA International Cooperation Minister Shaath. At the same time, Amin Haddad, Arafat’s designated governor of the Palestine Monetary Authority, established several import-export fronts for Arafat.

Arafat liked to keep his money within the family. In 1994, he instructed PA Finance Minister Mohammed Zohdi Nashashibi to provide $50,000 per month to a Jerusalem media center owned by Raymonda Tawil, Arafat’s mother-in-law, and Ibrahim Karaeen, an associate of Arafat’s family.

Little wonder that Arafat’s close aides became rich quickly and sent their wealth and children abroad, particularly to Britain and the United States. On a nominal annual salary of $18,000 Hisham Maki, then head of the Palestine Broadcasting Services, became a millionaire within a few years by taking bribes and selling PA-owned equipment.

Maki was assassinated in January 2001 by Fatah gunmen in what was believed to have been part of a dispute with his partner, another PA official.

Immediately after his assassination, Arafat froze Maki’s personal bank accounts, estimated at $17 million.

For Palestinians, the main question is where is Arafat’s money? Issam Abu Issa knows how Arafat stole and concealed money. Abu Issa was the founder and chairman of the Palestine International Bank from 1996 until he fled to Qatar in 2000.

“Rather than use donor funds for their intended purposes, Arafat regularly diverted money to his own accounts,” Abu Issa said in a report for Middle East Quarterly.

“It is amazing that some U.S. officials still see the Palestinian Authority as a partner even after U.S. 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.”

Abu Issa knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the table with Arafat. Arafat dissolved the board of directors of Abu Issa’s Palestine International Bank and then seized the bank’s assets of $105 million. Arafat appointed a new board, including a convicted felon sought by Interpol.

When Palestinian legislators sought to investigate, Arafat’s brought out his thugs. At the same time, the Palestine Monetary Authority concealed and destroyed bank records and supplied false information to a leading U.S. auditor. That led to a diplomatic crisis between Qatar and the PA.

Still, Arafat, thanks to his friends in the State Department, had the last laugh. In February 2004, Abu Issa was arrested as he arrived in Kennedy Airport in New York. The reason: The PA relayed allegations to the State Department that Abu Issa participated in money-laundering. After Qatar intervened, Abu Issa was released, but had to reapply for a visa to the United States.

“The message was clear: Foggy Bottom [the State Department] supports Arafat and will turn a blind eye toward the concerns of dissidents,” Abu Issa said.

The United States has been supporting former PA security chief Mohammed Dahlan as Arafat’s successor. To his friends in the Bush administration, Dahlan, 43, has all the qualities for Arab leadership: a smooth talker and brutal cop. Arafat asked Dahlan to accompany him to Paris in a move designed to keep him out of the Gaza Strip and any coup plot.

Another challenger has been Fatah Secretary-general Marwan Barghouti, sentenced to life in prison for a series of terrorist attacks. Barghouti, 44, has followers in the West Bank but does not appear to have the iron will necessary to face Arafat loyalists.

Neither Israeli nor PA officials know much about Arafat’s condition, and the only one authorized to issue information from his hospital bedside is the chairman’s wife, Suha.

And Suha wants to keep Arafat alive for as long as possible to find out where his money is.



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