- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 15, 2002

JERUSALEM (AP) Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has amassed a personal fortune of about $1.3 billion, Israel's military intelligence chief told parliament.

The claim was dismissed yesterday by Palestinian Authority officials as an Israeli attempt to discredit Mr. Arafat.

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip live in increasingly deteriorating conditions, and Mr. Arafat has repeatedly made appeals for international aid.

Mr. Arafat, who maintains a frugal lifestyle, has kept tight control over the multimillion-dollar budgets of the Palestine Liberation Organization and later the Palestinian Authority with little accountability. Mr. Arafat's unorthodox money management is part of his autocratic leadership style.

Mr. Arafat's new finance minister, Salam Fayad, has been trying to carry out some reforms and weed out corruption, but Israel's chief of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi, told parliament's defense and foreign affairs committee Tuesday that he believed about $1.3 billion remained under Mr. Arafat's exclusive control.

It has been suggested in the past that Mr. Arafat would use some of the money if he and his closest aides were forced to flee the Palestinian areas.

In a report to international donors last year, Mr. Arafat acknowledged the existence of a multimillion-dollar slush fund. For years, Mr. Arafat directly controlled income from Palestinian Authority monopolies over cement and gasoline.

Gen Zeevi's $1.3 billion figure is based on estimates by military intelligence, Giora Pordes, the parliament spokesman, said.

Ghassan Khatib, the Palestinian labor minister, said leaking such information to the press was part of an ongoing campaign by Israel to discredit Mr. Arafat and prove that his administration was corrupt.

"This is not new. I think everybody should look for evidence before reporting or dealing with this kind of propaganda and lies," he said.

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