Former Arafat advisor sentenced to 15 years in jail
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
PA court sentences Mohammed Rashid for embezzlement and money laundering, making him the most senior PA official to be sentenced for corruption.
A Palestinian Authority court in Ramallah Thursday sentenced Mohammed Rashid, a former advisor to Yasser Arafat, to 15 years in prison after finding him guilty of embezzlement and money laundering.
Rashid, who served for nearly two decades as Arafat's financial advisor, was also fined $15 million and ordered to give back $34 million which he and others allegedly stole.
Rashid is the most senior PA official to be sentenced for corruption by a PA court. He and three other former PA officials were sentenced in absentia after they refused to appear before the court.
Rashid, who is an Iraqi Kurd, left the Palestinian territories shortly after Arafat's death in late 2004. He has since been living in a number of Arab countries.
For many years he was one of Arafat's most trusted aides and, at one stage, headed the Palestine Investment Fund, which was established in 2003 as an independent company to strengthen the Palestinian economy through key strategic investments.
Rashid was also behind the PA's Oasis Casino project near Jericho. The casino, which was open mostly for Israelis, was closed down shortly after the beginning of the second intifada, which erupted in September 2000.
The court also sentenced two other Palestinians, Walid Abdel Rahman Najjab and Khaled Abdel Ghani Farra, to 15 years in prison for their role in embezzlement of public funds and money laundering.
A consultant company belonging to the Palestine National Fund was fined $5 million and dissolved by the court.
Last month, the PA's Anti-Corruption Commission, in a surprise move, announced that Rashid was wanted for corruption and asked Interpol to help in arresting him.
Interpol rejected the demand on the grounds that the PA was not authorized to make such a request because it was not a sovereign state.
The decision to prosecute Rashid came after he gave a series of interviews to the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV station in which he criticized PA President Mahmoud Abbas and other officials.
Rashid has since scoffed at the decision to prosecute him, saying Abbas was seeking to silence him and prevent him from exposing financial corruption in the PA.
The head of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Rafik Natsheh, visited Saudi Arabiya recently in an attempt to persuade the government to stop broadcasting the interviews with Rashid. The Saudis, according to sources close to Rashid, refused to interfere under the pretext that Al-Arabiya is an "independent" news channel.
In the past few weeks Rashid, who is presumed to be living in London, launched a scathing attack on Abbas and his two businessmen sons, holding them responsible for corruption and embezzlement.
Rashid claimed that Abbas's wealth was estimated at $100 million and called for a probe into the source of his and his sons' income. He also claimed that Abbas was the owner of five "palaces" worth more than $20 million.
Rashid also claimed that he had personally handed Abbas $25,000 when the latter arrived in the Gaza Strip after the signing of the Oslo Accords.
In an article published earlier this week, Rashid claimed that Abbas had "colluded" with Israel to keep jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti in prison. He further claimed that Abbas had conspired against Arafat by convincing the Americans and Israelis that the former PLO chief was an obstacle to peace.