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Arafat's wife says bank account probe ‘baseless’

The wife of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat reportedly accused Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of fueling a probe into alleged transfers totaling millions of dollars to bank accounts she holds.
Suha Arafat talks with her husband, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, during a conference in the Gaza Strip, in  1995.Nabil Judah / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The wife of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was behind reports of a probe by French prosecutors into alleged transfers totaling millions of dollars to bank accounts she holds, a newspaper reported Thursday.

The preliminary inquiry, opened by the Paris prosecutor’s office in October, is looking into the alleged transfer of $11.4 million to Suha Arafat’s accounts at the Arab Bank and at French bank BNP between July 2002 and September 2003, French judicial officials have said.

The probe was first reported by a weekly satirical newspaper, Le Canard Enchaine, on Wednesday.

'Entirely baseless,' she says
In a phone interview with Suha Arafat from Paris, home to the Palestinian first lady, she told the Al-Hayat daily that Sharon was spreading “the malevolent press leaks” to cover up a bribery scandal that could force him out of office.

Sharon has denied wrongdoing, and has told investigators he did not know of a lucrative marketing contract his son, Gilad, signed with a real estate developer despite apparent lack of experience needed for the job, according to Israeli press reports.

“The predicament that Sharon and his sons are in resulting from investigations into corruption charges is behind such fabricated press reports that are entirely baseless,” Arafat told the paper, responding to questions about the report published by Le Canard Enchaine.

“Sharon is trying to fabricate similar scandals (involving) the Arafat family to cover up his scandals,” she added, according to Al-Hayat.

In Jerusalem, a senior Israeli official rejected Suha Arafat’s allegations.

“We all know about the embezzlement. Sharon doesn’t need to be behind it. The evidence is behind it,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Arafat said she has not been summoned for questioning by the French prosecutor, a French court or any bank, according to Al-Hayat. she told the newspaper she first learned of the probe from press reports.

“As long as there is a Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Sharon and the Israelis will not stop vilifying President Arafat and his family,” Arafat told the newspaper. “They are trying to efface the Palestinian cause and kill Palestinian children, men and women.”

Arafat told Al-Hayat that the money she receives is sent to her and spent legally. In the published interview, she did not specify how much she has received nor did she reveal the amount under investigation.

“What’s strange about the Palestinian president sending any amount of money to his family and his wife who cares for Palestinian interests abroad?” Arafat said in the interview.

“All this money has come, and is coming, in a legal way and the way it’s spent is legal,” she added. “My husband and I are ready to respond to any questioning regarding the source of this money and they way it was spent.”

Very preliminary
French officials have stressed the investigation is only in its preliminary stages and that police are not involved. Nor has a full investigation been ordered, since the inquiry has not determined that the alleged funds came from illicit sources — a necessity if prosecutors are to file any charges of money laundering, French officials have said.

The investigation originated from a Bank of France inspection of the Arab Bank. The Bank of France found that nearly $1.27 million was allegedly transferred monthly from Switzerland to Suha Arafat’s accounts in Paris, French judicial officials have said.

The Bank of France alerted the watchdog Banking Commission, which in turn alerted the Paris prosecutor’s office in September, according to those officials. They said that Tracfin, a government organization that collates information about money laundering, confirmed the Bank of France’s suspicions about the alleged transfers.