The PA official entrusted with recovering embezzled funds has found only a fraction of what is believed to have been stolen by the Palestinian leadership.
The head of the Palestinian anti-corruption body says he has recovered $70 million in stolen funds over the past five years, yet his investigators could not expose the required evidence to justify allegations that further hundreds of millions of dollars in government funds have been stolen by the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) notoriously corrupt officials.
ASharq Al-Awsat reports that Rafiq al-Natsheh, chairman of the Palestinian Anti-Corruption Commission, said “tens of millions of dollars” still needed to be traced, and that one of the biggest challenges facing his team was recovering funds that had disappeared abroad.
The attorney general of the Palestinian Authority announced in February 2006 that he was investigating some 50 cases of embezzlement from the authority’s budget totaling $700 million, while PA head Mahmoud Abbas came under pressure from donor countries to show he is taking action.
“The biggest challenge we face is to get the money back,” Natsheh told Reuters. “There are many millions outside Palestine, so it depends on foreign countries for us to get the money back.”
“It’s very stressful work, it’s difficult,” he said.
Abbas himself was embroiled in a corruption scandal last year when it came to light that several of his aides were involved in embezzlement and funds misappropriation.
The European Union (EU) and the US, both providing direct budget support to the PA, want to see tighter controls. The Europeans are ready to send investigators to track where some of their funds have disappeared to.
Over the past five years, the EU and other organizations have reduced their direct support to the Palestinian budget from around $1.3 billion a year to less than $700 million, with the decline attributed in large part to frustration over money not being spent where it was intended or not being fully accounted for.
More recently, governments have begun to investigate if their funds were being used by the PA to fund terrorism.
Natsheh maintains that the sum of the missing embezzled funds is much smaller than reported, and claims he cannot find evidence to support the allegations.
“We hear many things from the Europeans and Americans, but the evidence isn’t there,” he said. “We are working according to the law. No one is guilty until it is proven.”
The same case applies for Palestinian NGOs set up to monitor corruption, he said. One NGO said it had 1,800 documented cases. But when asked for details, Natsheh said they provided information on just 10 cases, none of which checked out.
Asked if he would be prepared to investigate the highest echelons in the PA, he said that if he had reason to, he would not hesitate.
“If someone comes with evidence, we will investigate,” he said. “But so far no one brought any accusations or evidence against the president or his office.”
“There are big black holes” in the Palestinian financial and administrative system that “need to be addressed and reformed,” explained Azmi Shoabi, the head of Aman, a branch of the corruption watchdog Transparency International. Those include failing to publish financial reports properly and on time while not overseeing some 20 government-run funds headed by executives with excessive salaries, he said.
Various public departments have become “private kingdoms” for some officials, Shoabi added.
Polls conducted among the Palestinians consistently show that they have very little regard for their leadership, which they consider to be thoroughly corrupt.
Although the PA repeatedly claims it has no funds, somehow it finds a way to pay stipends to terrorists and their families.