Austrian Jewish mogul Martin Schlaff and Palestinian businessman Muhammad Rashid are secretly holding shares in partnership in gas company British Gas, EMG co-owner Yosef Maiman charged over the weekend. Rashid is known as a close economic advisor of the late Yasser Arafat, a controlling shareholder in several monopolies in Gaza. He is well-connected with both Palestinian and Israeli politicians. Maiman's rare comment was made ahead of today's expected move by the government to pave the way toward a deal with British Gas to purchase natural gas. The proposal on the table is to cancel a clause forbidding the state from acquiring or selling natural gas in a bid to introduce more suppliers to the country.

Maiman said that two months ago, he offered the interministerial team on natural gas the same amount of gas being discussed with BG at a lower price but had yet to receive a response. "I can't understand the thought process guiding the Prime Minister's Office - neither its preference for British Gas over other suppliers, nor the urgency and secrecy of its attention," Maiman commented yesterday.

BG is a 90 percent partner in the Palestinians' gas reserve opposite Gaza, estimated to contain 35 billion cubic meters of natural gas. Israel hopes to buy the reserve and boost competition with EMG, currently the country's largest supplier. Maiman holds a 25 percent stake in the company.

Maiman revealed that three years ago, BG talked with him about joining the Palestinian gas project. At the time he says, BG's overt partner, the Lebanese company CCC, revealed to him that some shares in the project were held in trust for confidential partners. "It turned out these included Rashid and Schlaff - based on this we decided to withdraw from the deal," says Maiman. He raised concerns that some of the funds reaching the confidential partners could indirectly end up in the hands of Hamas.