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Monday, November 01, 2004

Arab News: Fight Over Arafat's Billions

At the same time sources close to the Palestinian leadership said a bitter fight had broken over who should control the ailing leader’s fortune estimated to be between $4.2 billion and $6.5 billion.

Sources said Arafat has written a will transferring control of his assets to members of his wife’s family. Some of his aides, including former Premier Mahmoud Abbas who has stepped in as interim leader, however, believe the fortune belongs to the “beit al-mal” (public treasury), and should be transferred to the Palestinian Authority. The controversy started last week when Suha, Arafat’s wife, asked Muhammad Rashid, Arafat’s confidant and adviser, to prepare a list of the ailing leader’s fortune. According to Palestinian sources Rashid has said he would furnish the list only to the Palestinian Authority.

Identifying Arafat’s personal fortune and separating it from numerous secret bank accounts that he maintains in the name of the Palestine Liberation Orgaization and Al-Fatah is no easy task.

According to Jean-Claude Robard, a Swiss investment adviser, Arafat opened his first secret bank account in 1965 with a $50,000 check from the emir of Kuwait. Since then he has set up other accounts in Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg and the Cayman Islands.

Arafat also owns a number of hotels and holiday resorts in Spain, Italy, France, Switzerland, and Austria. He is the main shareholder in two cellular telephone companies operating in Tunisia and Algeria.

Some of Arafat’s businesses are in partnership with Arab politicians, former officials and entrepreneurs, including Rifaat Assad, a brother of the late Syrian President Hafez Assad, and Barzan Al-Takriti, a half-brother of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Al-Takriti is now under arrest in Baghdad.