JERUSALEM - Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday suspended the director of his bureau, Rafik Husseini, who has been at the center of a major sex scandal.
Abbas also established a three-man commission of inquiry to look into the matter.
The commission consists of three senior Fatah officials – Abu Maher Ghneim, Azzam al-Ahmed and Rafik Natsheh.
The panel will present its findings to Abbas and the PA leadership within three weeks, during which time Husseini will be suspended from work, Abbas’s office said in a statement.
Husseini, meanwhile, on Sunday night made his first public appearance since the scandal broke out.
He read a brief statement to journalists in Ramallah in which he claimed that he had fallen victim to a gang that worked for Israeli intelligence and that tried to extort him financially and politically.
Husseini, who refused to take questions, also said that the gang wanted to remove him from his job and force him to leave the country. He said that he would “continue to fight corruption and challenge the Israeli occupation.”
Fahmi Shabaneh, the Palestinian General Intelligence Service official who exposed the scandal in an exclusive interview published in The Jerusalem Post on January 29, welcomed Abbas’s decision to suspend Husseini as “a right step in the right direction.”
However, Shabaneh, who was appointed several years ago by Abbas to combat corruption in the PA, warned that the suspension of Husseini was not sufficient.
“He must be fired and put on trial together with many officials involved in financial, administrative and sexual corruption,” Shabaneh told the Post.
Shabaneh also expressed fear that the members of the commission of inquiry – all Abbas loyalists – would try to “bury” the cases of corruption that he exposed in the interview with the Post.
He noted that one of the commission members, Ahmed, was himself involved in financial corruption. “Azzam al-Ahmed and his brother, Allam, are suspected of embezzlement of more than $2.5 million,” he said.
“This was one of the hot cases that I investigated while I was in charge of the anti-corruption unit. How can someone like this be appointed to investigate corruption?”
Husseini has been under heavy pressure to quit after Shabaneh released secret video footage in which he appears naked in a woman’s bedroom.
Shabaneh said that the woman had sought the assistance of the PA President’s Bureau in solving a personal problem. Husseini agreed to help her through a presidential decree signed by Abbas, in return for sex, Shabaneh added.
The intelligence official told the Post that the decision to secretly film Husseini in the woman’s apartment was approved by a former commander of the General Intelligence Service, Tawfik Tirawi.
He said that Tirawi personally authorized the payment of NIS 7,000 to the Ramallah-based company that installed the cameras in the woman’s living room and bedroom.
Shabaneh said that when the scandal broke out, Tirawi offered him money to go on vacation until the storm settled.
The PA last week issued a warrant for Shabaneh’s arrest on charges of “collaboration” with Israel and harming the “prestige and national sentiments” of the Palestinians.
Also last week, Shabaneh issued an ultimatum to Abbas, saying that if the PA president didn’t dismiss Husseini within two weeks, he would expose even more serious cases ofcorruption involving senior PA officials.
In video footage, Husseini and his secretary are heard bad-mouthing Abbas and his two sons, Tareq and Yasser, as well as Yasser Arafat and Tirawi.
Husseini mocks at Abbas for lacking charisma. He adds that Abbas does not like the Palestinian people.
Husseini and his secretary are also heard denouncing Abbas’s sons as “crooks.”
At one stage, Husseini denounces Arafat as a big swindler who surrounded himself with thieves.
The secretary is heard condemning Tirawi, the former General Intelligence Service commander, as “trash.”
It was not clear whether the decision to suspend Husseini included his secretary, who belongs to a prominent Christian family from Jerusalem.
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