EU probes evidence its aid to Palestinians funded terrorism

Friday, February 7, 2003

LONDON The European Union, amid increasing complaints from parliamentarians, has launched an investigation of its aid to the Palestinian Authority.

"We have found no evidence that EU monies have been misused by the Palestinian Authority in order to finance terrorist activities," European Commission for External Relations Chris Patten said.

On Wednesday, the EU's anti-fraud office said the investigation of the European funding to the PA would take several months, Middle East Newsline reported. The office said the investigation was prompted by information received in late 2002.

The probe was announced amid plans by up to 170 parliamentarians to order an independent investigation of EU funding to the PA. The parliamentarians complained that the PA was using the $10.8 million a month in EU aid to finance Palestinian attacks against Israel.

The European Commission has opposed a call by parliamentarians for a formal committee of inquiry. Such a panel would have the authority to visit the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of an EU investigation.

EU sources said the parliamentarians were prompted by an Israeli report that asserted that 10 percent of the PA budget was being concealed. The report submitted to the EU provided documents that suggested that PA Chairman Yasser Arafat signed bank transfers to Palestinian insurgents.

The parliamentarians said PA officials have failed to provide a sufficient response to the Israeli report. PA Finance Minister Salam Fayyad said the Palestinan regime is not transparent and is vulnerable to corruptive practices.

"We are not for Israel, for Palestinians or against them," European parliamentarian Willy De Clerq, a Belgian Liberal, said. "We want the truth. That's all. Transparency is the key. Verification will help the credibility of the EU."

The International Monetary Fund has been authorized to oversee donor aid to the PA. But IMF officials said the fund cannot audit every line item in the Palestinian budget.

Ilka Schroeder, a European parliamentarian from Germany, said Patten has tolerated the PA use of European funding for Palestinian insurgency attacks. Schroeder warned that parliament would launch a probe without the support of the commission.

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