A special anti-graft court set up in the West Bank city of Ramallah has convicted a former aide to Yasser Arafat, in absentia, of embezzling millions of dollars during Arafat's rule.
Mohammed Rashid and two other businessmen were sentenced to 15 years behind bars and ordered to return 33.5 million euros in stolen funds, in the biggest case against corruption that has festered during the Palestinian Authority's 20-year history.
Prosecutors told the court, which was set up by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas two years ago, that Rashid profitted from front companies and fled abroad with the money after Arafat's 2004 death.
Rashid, whose whereabouts are unknown, has denied the charges in the past, and has accused Abbas of leading a witch-hunt against his predecessor's old allies. He has also accused Abbas and his family of owning assets worth tens of millions of dollars.
Rashid himself is believed to have various homes in the Gulf and Britain.
Rafiq Natsheh, head of the PA's anti-corruption commission, denied suggestions that Rashid's trial was politicized.
"This is only one of several files we are currently working on," he said. "Those guilty [of financial wrongdoing] cannot go on undetected."
Allegations of rampant corruption dogged Arafat's rule. Locals accused the leader of turning a blind eye to graft within his inner circle, as donor aid poured into the West Bank and Gaza Strip following the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords.
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