GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — In a speech before the Palestinian National Council April 30 in Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that the Palestinian judiciary would repatriate 60 to 80 Palestinian figures through Interpol on several charges, most notably embezzlement of public funds.
“You already know them, or you already know some of them, and we want to bring them [back] via Interpol. You’ll read their names in headlines very soon,” Abbas said, without mentioning a specific date to begin prosecuting.
Abbas’ hint of well-known names is likely meant to indicate Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) member and dismissed Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan, as well as some of those close to him and former Palestinian Authority (PA) official Mohammed Rashid, also known as Khaled Salam. Al-Khaleej online quoted in 2017 a Palestinian official as saying that the Palestinian Interpol has prepared files of 15 wanted Palestinian persons, including Dahlan.
On Dec. 14, Palestine’s anti-corruption court sentenced Dahlan in absentia to three years in prison for embezzlement of $16 million of public funds during his tenure as the presidency’s security affairs coordinator in 2003. The verdict followed Abbas’ revocation of Dahlan’s immunity Dec. 8, 2016. These procedures were part of the political dispute that erupted between the two in 2010.
Director of Interpol’s Palestine office Mahmoud Salah told Al-Monitor, “Since Palestine’s recently granted membership to Interpol Sept. 27, 2017, we are working on preparing procedural files of those referred to us under memorandums by Palestine’s public prosecutor’s office.” The PA was granted membership in Interpol at its annual general assembly in Beijing by a vote of 75-24 with 34 abstentions.
Salah refused to reveal names of those Interpol is seeking to repatriate, and he insisted that the release of any details is within the sole discretion of public prosecutor Ahmad Barrak.
Al-Monitor asked Barrak about the names of those being pursued by Interpol, but he declined to answer.
Majed Abu Shamala, Fatah’s Reformist movement leader in Gaza who is a close associate of Dahlan, told Al-Monitor, “Dahlan has parliamentary immunity. According to Article no. 53 of the Basic Law, which safeguards parliamentary immunity, neither President Abbas nor the Palestinian judiciary can prosecute him before revoking his immunity, which can only be revoked by the PLC.”
“We are for persecuting any Palestinian proven with evidence to have embezzled public funds, on condition that the suspect undergoes a fair trial and enjoys their complete freedom to defend themselves aside from any false accusations that aim at taking revenge on rivals, such as the case with Dahlan,” Abu Shamala added, as he assured that all accusations leveled against Dahlan are false. He said the anti-corruption court founded by Abbas in 2010 is unconstitutional, for it hasn’t been ratified by the PLC. He added that it was only founded by Abbas to persecute his political rivals after fabricating accusations against them.
Al-Monitor spoke to AMAN’s commissioner for combating corruption Azmi al-Shuaibi, who anticipates that the Palestinian judiciary will have difficulty in repatriating Palestinians facing accusations and in trying them, as there aren’t any repatriation treaties with most Arab countries where the wanted Palestinians reside. “The Palestinian Interpol may only get information about the wanted ones,” Shuaibi said.
Shuaibi said the PA has failed to ever bring in any fugitives, as the countries where they are hosted refuse to repatriate them on grounds that those being sought hold dual nationalities. For instance, Jordan refused to hand over former director of the Palestinian Ministry of Finance Sami al-Ramlawi after he was accused of embezzling $4.5 million worth of public funds.
Saeed Abu Fara, assistant professor of international law at the Faculty of Law at Arab American University in Jenin, said, “The judiciary and the Palestinian Interpol may find difficulty bringing wanted persons to the Palestinian judiciary through Interpol due to the state of political complexity between these countries and the PA, not to mention the absence of a Palestinian penal code to try people under.”
Abu Fara added, “The penal code effective now in the West Bank is Jordan’s Penal Code no. 16 of 1960, while in Gaza the British Penal Code no. 74 of 1936 is effective. Therefore, it becomes inevitable to establish a new Palestinian penal code, especially since the PA is now a member of intergovernmental organizations such as the International Criminal Court and Interpol.”
The procedures that the PA is scheduled to follow in the next few days via Interpol will reveal the extent of this authority's success in bringing the wanted persons before the judiciary. Nevertheless, figures such as Dahlan will be difficult to repatriate due to diplomatic tensions that arose between the host country, the United Arab Emirates, and the PA following the UAE's hosting of Dahlan in 2012.
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