Top Abbas aide 'betrayed' by his driver

Rauhi Fattouh's VIP pass revoked after attempt to smuggle 3,000 cellular phones from Jordan.

fattouh zahar 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
fattouh zahar 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
Rouhi Fattouh, former speaker of the Palestinian Authority Legislative Council and a close aide to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, denied Wednesday that he had tried to smuggle 3,000 cellphones from Jordan. Fattouh, who served as acting PA chairman for three months following the death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004, claimed that it was his driver who had tried to smuggle the phones across the Allenby Bridge on their way back from Jordan. This is not the first time that PA officials have used their Israeli-issued VIP passes to smuggle goods into the Palestinian territories. Fattouh and the driver were caught by Israeli customs officers during a routine check of their vehicle and baggage. The VIP passes exempt holders from searches at checkpoints within the West Bank, but only Abbas is exempt at the crossings from Jordan. After discovering the cellphones, the customs officers summoned the police, who briefly detained the two for questioning. The police then reported the incident to the office of Maj.-Gen. Yosef Mishlav, coordinator of government activities in the territories, who decided to temporarily revoke Fattouh's VIP pass. "My driver has acted in an immoral and irresponsible manner," Fattouh told The Jerusalem Post. "He has exploited his position as driver of a senior official to smuggle the phones. He also used an official vehicle in violation of regulations." Fattouh said that as soon as he learned about the confiscation of the smuggled phones, he contacted the PA security forces, asking them to detain the driver. "An investigation is under way to determine who's behind this attempt and whether the driver had accomplices," Fattouh said. A PA security official in Ramallah said the driver had admitted to being behind the smuggling attempt, and to having a Jordanian accomplice. "The driver said that he tried to smuggle the cellular phones without Fattouh's knowledge," the official told the Post. "He has caused huge damage to Fattouh's reputation." Fattouh accused the Israeli media of "exaggerating" the story. He also lashed out at the Israeli authorities for allegedly leaking the story to reporters. Fattouh said he was enraged and saddened not because of the media reports as much as the the feeling that he had been "betrayed" by his personal driver.