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Despite Oslo windfall, PLO still running drugs, laundering money

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Despite recognition from the West, the Palestine Liberation Organization continues to engage in drug trafficking and weapons deals in cooperation with insurgency groups throughout the Middle East, according to a new study.

A recently-released report, commissioned for B'nai B'rith, Europe, asserts that the PLO earns billions of dollars through a range of illegal activities, Middle East Nesline reported. Those activities include drug trafficking, arms smuggling, money laundering and counterfeiting in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and such Arab regimes as Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Sudan.

"The PLO's transformation into the Palestinian Authority in 1993, as a result of the Oslo Accords, did not impede the organization's illegal activities," the report, entitled "Where Does the Money Go: A Study of the Palestinian Authority," said. "On the contrary, it enhanced them. As the whole world gave the PA legitimacy, it abused this status to expand its illegal activities."

The report said that contrary to assertions by the PA and its Western supporters, the PLO and Arafat's regime have won additional financial support since the start of the Israeli-Palestinian war in 2000. The PA saw an 80 percent increase in donor financing in 2001 as a result of increased funding from Arab and Islamic regimes.

In all, the report said, the PA obtained $1.02 billion in 2001. In 2000, the figure was $555 million.

The report said the PA has laundered money through off-shore banks in Cyprus, Hong Kong and Monaco. The PA used the PLO for money-laundering.

The PLO continues to obtain funds from Arab regimes and companies in exchange for a pledge not to attack them, the report said. The PLO also earns revenue from charities, drug trafficking and weapons deals.

The report was authored by Rachel Ehrenfeld, a researcher at the New York-based American Center for Democracy. Ms. Ehrenfeld has testified in Congress and served as a consultant to Western governments regarding PLO finances. The report, in part, draws from official Palestinian documents captured by Israel over the last year.

Estimates of the PLO's fortune have varied. In 1994, the British government asserted that the PLO amassed $10 billion. Last year, Israeli officials estimated the wealth of PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, who controls PLO and PA financing, at $1.3 billion.

"Clearly, the PLO and its successor, the PA, have played an indispensable role in creating the financial model for today's terrorist organizations," the report said. "Close examination of the methods and institutions that account for the PLO's success can help us to better track how Al Qaida and other terrorist organizations operate financially."

The report cited such PLO enterprises as Samed and the Palestine Commercial Services Co. The PLO formed Samed in 1970, to control and operate its economic activities and today the firm operates duty-free shops and holds interests in airlines throughout Africa. Ahmed Qurei, today speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, has for years headed Samed.

The PA is also said to own shares in stocks traded in Frankfurt, Paris, and Tokyo. They include stocks in Mercedes-Benz.

"Under the PA's control, massive merchandise counterfeiting enterprises flourish, making millions of dollars a year, with royalties going to senior Palestinian Authority figures," the report said. "The merchandise includes CDs, DVD's, clothing, cosmetics, and schoolbooks. This is done in cooperation with Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations."

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