Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad and the rating company Standard & Poor’s have traced $658 million worth of the Palestinian Authority’s assets and funds, according to a preliminary report issued recently.

Among the more interesting details are the PA’s part in the Oasis casino in Jericho. The PA owns 23.08 percent of CAP, the company that owns the Jericho Casino. The Oasis is also partly owned by Jewish Austrian businessman Martin Schlaf – a close friend of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon – who also sits on the board of directors.

According to the report, CAP is registered in Lichtenstein and most of its owners are not known. Among its registered owners is an Austrian casino company, in which Schlaf is prominently involved. Schlaf last visited Sharon about two weeks ago in Hashikmim farm. The Prime Minister’s Office director general, Dov Weisglass, represented CAP in Israel before entering his present office and his former law office still handles the company’s business.

The Austrian Casino company received, according to the report, a franchise to operate the Jericho casino until 2028, with a 10-year tax exemption from the day it opened, and exclusive rights to operate other casinos in PA territories.

The report was issued by the Palestinian Investment Fund (PIF), the central body set up last August to concentrate and manage all the PA’s assets and properties as part of the economic reforms in the PA. These funds and assets were managed during the Oslo agreements exclusively and secretly by Mohammed Rashid and his men. The PIF appointed Fayyad finance minister, Rashid as PA Chairman Yasser Arafat’s representative and five other prominent private Palestinian businessmen, to take over and manage the assets in an orderly, open fashion.

The report, albeit partial, gives the Palestinian public for the first time some idea of the extent of funds run by Rashid and the economic system that the PA set up in the territories and abroad. In many cases, the information regarding the funds or assets is not complete and it is not yet clear which senior PA officials are managing them or own them.

The report indicates so far that there are 11 central PA investments in Palestinian companies totaling $372.9 million in local investments, like the Palestinian Telephone Company and the Palestinian Cellular Company. There are also investments in the Arab world, in cellular companies in Algiers, Tunis and Jordan, a Canadian drug company and others.

Another prominent company mentioned in the report is a Palestinian cement company, which according to the report is worth about $45 million and is owned entirely by the PA.

The company constitutes a monopoly in cement marketing and is estimated to hold 60 to 70 percent of the cement market. Its main suppliers are the Israeli Nesher company and the Jordanian cement company. The company’s annual income is estimated at NIS 115 million.

This piece first appeared in Ha’aretz on March 2, 2003 and was posted on the HaAretz web site again on October 10th, 2004

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