PA AG freezes accounts of corruption suspects

Prosecutors have frozen bank accounts and seized assets of dozens of corruption suspects, the Palestinian attorney general said, but the widening probe appears to fall short of a major post-election housecleaning in the corruption-riddled Palestinian Authority. Earlier this week, Attorney General Ahmed al-Meghani said he believed officials have stolen billions of dollars from public coffers in the past decade. Twenty-five suspects are in custody and at least six have fled to Arab countries, including four to Jordan, al-Meghani told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday evening. Al-Meghani has refused to release the names of suspects. Asked whether he was only going after lower-level suspects, he said: "The coming days will prove the contrary." Among the suspects is a deputy minister who allegedly misappropriated about half a million shekels (more than US$100,000 or €84,000), according to documents shown to the AP. However, no Cabinet ministers are currently being investigated, said legislator Azmi Shuaibi, an anti-corruption campaigner. Shuaibi, who has collected information on dozens of corrupt officials and transferred it to prosecutors, said two Cabinet ministers were in that group of suspects. Al-Meghani said he is investigating dozens of suspects and that the probe is widening. "Every day, we get new proof (of wrongdoing)," he said, citing as an example the Palestinian Petroleum Authority, which held the monopoly for the import and sale of fuel products in the West Bank and Gaza. The authority, which had operated with little supervision for a decade, was brought under control of the Finance Ministry in 2003. The attorney general said the investigation of the Petroleum Authority alone yielded 30 suspects. Palestinian security officials said the former head of the authority, Harbi Sarsour, is imprisoned in the West Bank. He noted that one former suspect - Palestinian TV chief Hisham Miki who was killed by gunmen in 2001 - was believed to have stolen $23 million (€19 million) in public funds, and that his London apartment was seized during the investigation.