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Anti corruption chief going after foreign accounts

Jan. 2, 2012 2:47 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 4, 2012 10:01 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The head of the PA anti-corruption commission said on Monday that the body is working to restore public funds stashed abroad by Palestinian officials.

Rafiq al-Natsheh told Ma'an that the commission is chasing corruption suspects living outside of Palestine, pending an agreement with their countries of residence.

Jordanian newspaper al-Dustour reported last week that Palestinian officials are moving deposits from Jordanian banks to foreign accounts, raising fears that suspects were trying to circumvent the corruption crackdown.

Al-Natsheh said the moving of deposits itself did not concern his commission, "but if suspects accused of stealing public money (are moving funds abroad), that falls within our jurisdiction."

"We will ask these countries to help us restore the stolen public money," he said, adding that he had faced no problems to date in trying to restore funds moved to foreign or Israeli banks.

"Transferring money anywhere (abroad) will not prevent us from calling suspects to account and restoring that money," the anti-corruption head said.

He did not name suspects being investigated or countries were they are alleged to have stored public funds.

Despite the Palestinian Authority's internationally-lauded efforts to crack down on corruption -- including the establishment of al-Natsheh's commission in 2010 -- the complexity of financial corruption in Palestinian institutions dating back decades has yet to be untangled.

In rare comments on the location of assets belonging to the PLO, the umbrella body representing Palestinians established in 1964, al-Natsheh said bank deposits and real estate collected by the organization had been temporarily entrusted to "trustworthy individuals," pending their restoration to the Palestinian Authority government, established in 1994.

Some of the money and property have not yet been restored, he told Ma'an, adding that the Authority and PLO were working on returning the public assets.

Palestinians privy to details of the issue said that return of the funds is being held up as the "entrusted individuals" wrangle of the percentage of the funds they can hold onto.

They did not elaborate on the size of the funds that may be shared between the PA and the account holders, but it is likely to run into many million of dollars. A year ago, the anti-corruption commission announced it had already recovered $5 million from former officials charged with corruption.

The anti-corruption commission is currently working on 145 cases of corruption, of which 13 have already been referred to courts. Two government ministers stepped down in 2011 after the commission referred their cases to court. Minister of Agriculture Ismail Daiq and Minister of Economy Hassan Abu Libdeh both deny the charges.

Al-Natsheh vowed on Monday to complete the mandate of his commission.

"It is our responsibility to follow up with any complaint we receive about any official, and if we find out that any money was taken illegally, we will interrogate that official and refer him to court.

"Any money gained illegally must be returned."
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