PA ousts official who smuggled phones

Rouhi Fattouh used a VIP pass to illicitly transfer some 3,000 cellphones from Jordan into Israel.

fattouh zahar 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
fattouh zahar 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
A top Palestinian Authority official who was caught last week while trying to smuggle some 3,000 cellular phones from Jordan has been suspended pending an investigation into the case. PA security sources said they did not rule out the possibility that Rouhi Fattouh was part of a bigger network of smugglers whose members include senior PA and Fatah officials carrying Israeli-issued VIP passes. Fattouh, former speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council and a senior adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, was stopped by customs officers at the Allenby Bridge upon his return from Jordan. When the officers searched his car, they discovered the cellular phones. Fattouh denied any link to the cellular phones, holding his driver responsible. Fattouh and the driver were released after the officers confiscated the cellular phones, which are estimated to be worth more than $300,000. The driver was later arrested by the PA's General Intelligence Force in the West Bank. The driver's family denied that he was connected to the smuggling attempt. Over the weekend, Abbas decided to suspend Fattouh until the end of the investigation. The Fatah Central Committee also suspended Fattouh's membership. Fattouh is suspected of exploiting his VIP pass to smuggle the phones through the Allenby Bridge. The office of the government's coordinator of activities in the PA territories last week revoked his VIP pass. The case has seriously embarrassed the PA leadership in Ramallah, whose leaders expressed outrage over the involvement of a senior official in the smuggling attempt. PA officials said Abbas was "enraged" when he heard about the case. They said Abbas has also banned Fattouh from entering the Mukata "presidential" compound in Ramallah. In the past few days, the PA security forces raided dozens of shops in the West Bank and confiscated over 7,000 cellular phones that were being sold on the black market. The raid came following reports that the PA was losing four million dollars in customs every month because of the cellular phones that were being sold on the black market.