Suha Arafat, the wife of Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat, has accused Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of distributing reports in the French media that she was under investigation for laundering $11.5 million. Suha told London-based Arabic daily “Al-Hayat”, "Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is responsible for the 'vicious leak'." Ms. Arafat resides in Paris.
In a telephone conversation with an "Al-Hayat" journalist, Ms. Arafat said, "The crisis Sharon and his sons are facing from the bribery investigation is behind the report. It's an effort to invent similar family scandals, involving the Arafat family."
Ms. Arafat vehemently denied the report, saying that neither the French Public Prosecutor nor the banks had contacted her. "I learned about the affair from the newspaper," she said.
"So long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict persists, Sharon and the Israelis won't stop trying to hurt Arafat in order to conceal the subject of the Palestinians and the killing of Palestinian women and children."
Ms. Arafat expressed astonishment about the report, saying, "What's strange about the rais (president) sending money to his wife overseas, especially when I handle Palestinian matters and interests? I received the money legally, and my husband and I are prepared to answer any question about the source of the money and its transfer."
On Tuesday, the French Public Prosecutor announced that it had opened an investigation into the transfer of $11.5 million to Ms. Arafat's bank accounts. The Public Prosecutor confirmed reports that an investigation had been opened in October 2003, after the Bank of France and Tracfin, the French government's anti-money laundering office, had sent it information about Ms. Arafat's bank accounts.
The French Public Prosecutor stated that it wanted to examine the transfer of money from a Swiss-based organization to two separate accounts held by Ms. Arafat in Paris between July 2002 and July 2003.
The investigation was opened following a "60 Minutes" investigative report by US network CBS. The report claimed that Arafat had amassed over $800 million in private bank accounts, money that was originally intended for the Palestinian Authority. "60 Minutes" also claimed that Arafat's wife and mother-in-law, Raymonda Tawil, who also resides in Paris, were both a beneficiaries of money paid by Palestinian taxpayers.
Palestinian sources have criticized Ms. Arafat's luxurious lifestyle in the past. She told an Arab magazine last year that she would return to her homeland "if Arafat asks me".
Published by Globes [online] - www.globes.co.il - on February 12, 2004