Mrs. Arafat keeps husband
on life support
Where's his money?
Thursday, November 4, 2004
RAMALLAH — Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has died. He was 75 years old.
Israeli and Palestinian officials said Arafat died on Thursday in a military hospital in Paris. They said Arafat was deemed clinically dead, but is still attached to life support systems on the insistence of his wife, Suha.
"He is dead, but neither Arafat's wife nor the Palestinian leadership is ready to announce this," a PA official said. "The announcement could take place on Friday."
The problem is that Arafat is still the only Palestinian official who can pay the bills. And it is unclear who, if anyone, has access to the estimated $2-3 billion in his personal Swiss bank accounts, according to a report in the current edition of Geostrategy-Direct.com . Even his wife is said to be unaware of how to access the funds.
Arafat continues to hold the purse strings to the Palestinian finances. For the last decade, he has been 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 okay.
Before he left for Paris, Arafat approved a three-member emergency committee to operate the PA and PLO in his absence. Officials said Ahmed Qurei was meant to run the PA's daily affairs while 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.
Israeli officials confirmed that Arafat died on Thursday, Middle East Newsline reported. They said Arafat was termed brain dead and physicians have stopped attending to him.
For Palestinians, the main question is where is Arafat's money?
Issam Abu Issa knows how Arafat appropriated 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."
Arafat controls billions of dollars meant for the Palestinian people. In a word, he stole it, intelligence sources said, according to the Geostrategy-Direct report.
His personal fortune has been estimated at between $2 and $3 billion, most of it in Swiss bank accounts.
In 1997, the PA auditor's office said in its financial report that $326 million, or 43 percent of the annual budget, was "missing."
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 have been told much about Arafat's condition, and the only one authorized to issue information from his hospital bedside is the chairman's wife, Suha.