Second PA Minister Indicted in Corruption Probe
Palestinian Authority Economy Minister Hassan Abu Libdeh has been charged with fiscal misconduct, court sources said on Tuesday.
The indictment adds mounting pressure to the already tenuous government of PA prime minister Salam Fayyad.
According to Reuters, there was no immediate comment from Abu Libdeh, who has always denied accusations of corruption. Under PA law he will be suspended from his post pending a verdict.
A court source told Reuters the first hearing in the case, which includes allegations of embezzlement and insider trading before Abu Libdeh took office in 2009, will be held on December 12.
Abu Libdeh is one of five ministers who have come under suspicion amid an ongoing corruption probe into Fayyad's government.
The names and number of officials being investigated have not been released, but in January it revealed 80 cases of corruption were being examined and that $5 million had been recovered from former officials. International observers say $5 million is likely just a drop in the bucket.
Reports of corruption and the plundering of PA coffers under Mahmoud Abbas have pervaded the Israeli media for years - with Channel 10 running a report in 2010 that PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas had withdrawn millions from PA accounts in Amman and Cairo.
Abbas, however, is not under investigation.
The charges against Libdeh come as Fayyad finds the cash strapped PA on the verge of fiscal insolvency amid a downturn in foreign aid dollars and Israel's decision to freeze the transfer of tax-revenue funds to Ramallah.
The tax revenues – amounting to roughly $100 million per month – were frozen after PA officials sought unilateral recognition of statehood based on the pre-1967 lines at the United Nations.
Israeli officials say the unilateral moves, which culminated in the PA being inducted into UNESCO, are a direct violation of bilateral agreements between Israel and the PA that govern all contacts and cooperation between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu previously said while such an outcome would be “unfortunate” it “wouldn’t be the end of the world.”
Libdeh is the second minister to face corruption charges in recent months, with the agriculture minister leaving office in August after receiving a court summons. He also denied wrongdoing.
Fayyad has been hailed in the past for battling widespread corruption in Ramlllah - with UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon saying Tuesday the PA was "institutionally ready to assume the responsibilities of statehood."
The loss of two senior cabinet figures to allegations of corruption represents a blow to claims the PA can provide responsible governance.