Thirteen Hands Hold the Keys of His Treasure House

Yasser Arafat’s death will remain an unsolved mystery and feed endless speculation of foul play as long as no medical authority produces an irrefutable diagnosis. Anxious to lay the damaging rumors to rest, the Palestinian Authority set up an inquiry commission this week to address an official request to the French government for the medical records of Arafat’s last days at the Percy military hospital. The defense ministry in Paris finally compromised by handing the records to his nephew, Nasser al-Kidwa, who represents the Palestinian Authority at the United Nations.

Unexplained deaths when accompanied by great wealth invariably give rise to the question: who profits?

The size of Arafat’s fortune is anyone’s guess because he never left a last will.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, however, estimate that he kept roughly $600-800 m in various cash accounts plus between $3.6 and 4 billion tied up in various business enterprises.

Contrary to current belief that he put his money in telecommunications firms, our sources report it was sunk mostly in West African commercial airlines and quite heavily in big mixed farming enterprises in Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan. The income yielded from these investments was channeled to holding companies in Europe which reinvested the revenues and passed the profits on to Arafat’s money managers.

The biggest holding company is the Selim Khoury family firm based in Athens.

Ask any Palestinian official where Arafat’s money is and he’ll give the standard reply: no one in the Palestinian Authority knows.

Nonetheless, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s investigative resources have tracked down thirteen of Arafat’s money managers, each of whom knows where his money, or a part thereof, is buried. They are all armed with Arafat’s power of attorney for handling the funds under their supervision.

Their names are:

·        Selim Khoury. The aforementioned Khoury is a multimillionaire who holds a large slice of Arafat’s fortune. His firm manages vast construction projects, including the 2004 Olympic Games installations. Khoury has made a point of never investing funds in Palestinian areas where he is hardly known.

·        Yousef al-Abdullah. Arafat’s senior bodyguard and most trusted aide, he holds the key to the second largest slice of Arafat’s assets after Khoury.

·        Mohammed Nashashibi, director of the Palestinian Monetary Fund, who as the Palestinian Authority finance minister in 1994 negotiated the financial arrangements with his new bride’s mother, Raymonda Taweel.

  • Kharabi Sarsur, one of Arafat’s anonymous emissaries who held the key to his personal cash box in Ramallah. His disbursements often told intelligence agencies what Arafat was up to. He also took charge of the kickbacks from all the Palestinian Authority’s fuel importing transactions.
  • Mohammed Rashid. Known as “the Kurd who controlled Arafat’s investments,” Rashid was his point man for running the monopoly partnerships signed with Israel for the import of basic commodities to Palestinian-controlled areas – cement, lumber, steel, paints and food products – after the 1993 Oslo Accords. Rashid split the commissions with designated Israeli businessmen and passed them on to Arafat.
  • Jibril Banun, a Tunisian Jew and the most mysterious figure of the thirteen guardians of the treasure. He is a French citizen who resides in Paris. Astonishingly, a large portion of Arafat’s money was deposited with and managed by Banun, a man whom most Palestinian leaders have never heard of.
  • Pierre Rizk, a Lebanese Christian (see DEBKA-Net-Weekly, 181, November 11) and Suha Arafat’s business partner, who is believed to also be her lover. Suha persuaded Arafat to let Rizk handle some of his money, assuring her husband it would be in his best interests. In time, he became Khoury’s counterpart in West Europe.
  • Sami Ramlawi. A Ramallah-based Palestinian multimillionaire, whom Arafat entrusted with large sums and has always kept a low profile.
  • Amin Haddad. Governor of the Palestinian Monetary fund, professor of economics and business administration.
  • Ramzi Khoury. Arafat’s private secretary and bureau chief of his Ramallah office. He became a business partner of Suha and Rizk, with whom he has a special bond as a fellow Christian.
  • Abu al-Saud Faiz. One of the characters hanging around Arafat in Ramallah with no known regular function.
  • Wahid Mounir. As acting director-general of the Palestinian Authority’s social affairs ministry, he controlled overseas donations to the Palestinian people, including the grants from Europe. He was also responsible for disbursements for terrorist operations and for fattening Arafat’s private accounts.
  • Mohammed Al-Badr. Another secret Arafat emissary who handled part of his funds.

Only by fitting together the pieces in the possession of all thirteen guardians – who have no reason to be forthcoming – could the Palestinian Authority hope to discover the precise size of Arafat’s fortune and its secret repositories.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Palestinian sources have picked up signs that the money managers who live on the West Bank are beginning to run scared and preparing to leave. They have several good reasons to go to ground: Arafat’s demise has left many millions of dollars without a master, a dazzling lure for blackmailers, extortionists and worse – whether for bankrolling more terror or plain theft. The US and other donor governments will want to track the funds for an orderly accounting of Arafat’s hidden stash, if only to prevent it being plowed back into terrorism. Furthermore, the Palestinian Authority owns an interest in laying hands on the missing funds which by rights belong to the Palestinian people.

Some guardians may of course step forward and offer to hand over the assets they guarded for Arafat. But it far more likely that by the time painstaking inquiries reach their destination, the cupboard will be bare.

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