While the office doors of prime ministers were opened to him, while he walked around Camp David with Mohammed Rashid and took part in peace negotiations, Yossi Ginosar was involved in managing the PA’s funds in Switzerland for Rashid, reaping large commissions and repaying Rashid through straw companies that he established.
Around USD 300 million of the Palestinian people’s money was transferred from a Swiss bank account belonging to Yasser Arafat and Mohammed Rashid to unknown destinations during the first year of the Intifada. The account, at the Swiss bank Lombard Odier, was managed by Israelis and Ozrad Lev.
Senior Israeli security sources believe that an international investigation is needed to determine where the money went and what it was used for. Israeli intelligence figures are concerned about possible misuse of the funds.
The same sources expressed amazement and disappointment that Ginosar, a former GSS branch commander and the special envoy of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Ehud Barak to the Palestinian Authority, did not provide security authorities with information about the withdrawal of the Palestinian funds when the withdrawals were performed, during the Intifada.
A long list of grave acts is revealed here at the initiative of Ozrad Lev, Ginosar’s partner who decided to convey the information to Ma’ariv. “I could not go on living with the feeling that I was a partner, even if only in a completely passive fashion, in illegal or unethical acts, including the payment of bribes under the table, conflict of interests, and problematic behavior,” says Lev. “I am not only talking about people, but also about national and governmental behavior. It became clear to me that the peace process corrupts no less than the occupation. In the end this story must come out, into daylight. It cannot be hidden forever. I prefer, in a situation like this one, to cooperate and tell the truth, the whole truth, in order to avoid a situation in which my children, who are more precious to me than anything, will read incorrect things in the newspaper.”
Ozrad Lev, a 42-year-old businessman who was responsible for opening the bank accounts for the Palestinians in Switzerland and who served as their investment strategist, as Mohammed Rashid’s economic adviser and as Yossi Ginosar’s partner, revealed all of the details behind hundreds of millions of dollars in PA funds which were managed by Mohammed Rashid, Yossi Ginosar, and himself over the past few years. All of the deals, all of the money laundering, all of the payments, all of the straw companies, all of the money transfers, the commissions and the financial behavior of Rashid and Ginosar.
Ma’ariv presents a rare look inside the private safe of Rashid, Arafat, Ginosar and other officials. The “Israeli connection” behind the Palestinian money. The vast profits. The personal gains. The problematic involvement of the Swiss banks. The unscrupulous behavior of businessman Yossi Ginosar, the personal envoy between (at least) three Israel prime ministers and Yasser Arafat.
The first to use Ginosar’s mediating services was the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Shimon Peres did the same. Binyamin Netanyahu occasionally consulted with Ginosar, but lowered the profile of his diplomatic missions and preferred his own confidant, Attorney Yitzhak Molcho. When Ehud Barak was elected Ginosar was brought back into the center of things and he was made Barak’s special envoy to Arafat. The situation changed during Ariel Sharon’s term as prime minister. “The only one who saw that there was a problem, that something was not right here, and stopped Ginosar’s activities or at least limited them, was Sharon,” says Ozrad Lev. “As far as I know, the prime minister’s son Omri also understood the story in time and put an end to it.”
Ginosar sat at Camp David next to Ehud Barak, pressured various prime ministers to accept Palestinian requests, saw secret material (in Israel and in Ramallah) on a regular basis, while at the same time managing Mohammed Rashid’s funds, using them as his own, establishing countless offshore companies, taking in vast profits, secretly paying Mohammed Rashid set percentages and commissions from gas and cement deals in Israel (but not before receiving his own cut) and being involved in deals connected with the Jericho casino. The whole time he did not give Israeli authorities-despite repeated demands,the details of this blatant and impossible conflict of interests.
Even more grave: Ginosar worked to establish a network of straw companies for Rashid through which Rashid secretly received his part of the commissions for the management of funds designated “the money of the Palestinian people.” “I will not let him touch you,” Mohammed Rashid once told Ozrad Lev, when Lev complained that Ginosar was trying to distance him from their joint dealings. “I made him a very rich man, I made at least $10 million for him.”
Ozrad Lev served in IDF intelligence, served as aide to Amos Gilad, the office director of the commander of military intelligence, who was Ehud Barak at that time, was the adjutant for two chiefs of staff (Moshe Levy and Dan Shomron), received a prize for “creative thinking” from the commander of IDF Intelligence along with a team of research and intelligence personnel, and then became a successful businessman. […]
For about three years Lev served as financial adviser to Mohammed Rashid and the PA. He succeeded in convincing one of the most prestigious and well-respected Swiss banks, the Geneva-based Lombard Odier, to open an investment portfolio for the PA. The bank manages around 130 billion Swiss franks for various clients. Lev served as the “bridging adviser” for the Palestinian money, the coordinator and mediator between the bank and Rashid.
The funds involved total more than USD 300 million transferred by Rashid and Arafat to the bank from a PA account in Ramallah’s Arab Bank, but their final destination is not known: in 2001, at the height of the Intifada, Rashid transferred the money from the Swiss bank to an unknown destination.
Where were the USD 300 million, the “money of the Palestinian people,” transferred to at the height of the Intifada? The Americans, the Europeans, international financial institutions, the World Bank and the Palestinians themselves their new finance minister, Salam Fayed-are looking for the money and have even employed accountants and private investigators for this purpose. IDF intelligence and the GSS have been trying to investigate the matter for some time.
Lev is disturbed: Where was the money transferred to and what was it used for? “I know for a fact that the money did not come back to where it came from. Despite the fact that from that moment I have not been responsible for these funds, I think that we must investigate and clarify where the money went. In the documents of the company and the account that we established for Rashid and Arafat it is clearly written that this is the ‘money of the Palestinian people.’ This people has a right to know where its money went.” […]
The name of the offshore company that managed the Palestinian account at the Swiss bank was Ledbury, established in April of 1997. Later Ginosar became concerned that “too many people know that name,” and changed it to Crouper. Lev’s job was to convince the respected Swiss bank, one of the biggest in the Swiss banking system, to accept the Palestinian funds, for the first time, in an exceptional, irregular decision. This on the condition that the money return to the Arab Bank.
In the years before this, there had been several banking scandals in Switzerland (funds belonging to Zaire dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and to Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos were discovered in Swiss banks, sparking widespread criticism) and it was very difficult to convince respected financial institutions to take large sums of money from an ephemeral body like the Palestinian Authority, which is not a country and does not have an organized and transparent financial system.
The bank’s representative in the negotiations with Lev was Richard de Charner, one of the bank’s seven partner-managers, considered a very well-respected banker in Switzerland. At first de Charner treated the Palestinian money and its sources with suspicion. Then he was satisfied. A “letter of limitations” drafted by Lev, which put serious limits on the Ledbury account, convinced the Swiss bankers to accept the Palestinian money and manage it for almost three years.
The Palestinians, and most of all Rashid, could not hide their surprise and joy when they heard that such a well-respected Swiss bank had agreed to invest their money. The Swiss, for their part, could not hide their amazement when they received the aforementioned letter signed by Mohammed Rashid, on stationery from the Palestinian presidential office.
Their amazement grew when they saw that the documents connected with the account and the Ledbury company included, of course, Yasser Arafat’s signature and a photocopy of his passport photo (Palestinian passport number one). Despite everything, the Swiss bankers acquiesced and opened the Palestinian account. It remained open until Rashid withdrew the money in several withdrawals not long after the beginning of the Intifada.
Where is this money today? Only Rashid knows, and maybe Arafat as well.
Ma’ariv has also learned that three other European financial institutions were involved in managing the Palestinian funds. One was Soditique, a Swiss investment house owned by a Jewish family. When one of the owners, who is also a leader of the Jewish community in Switzerland, discovered the source of the money, he ordered that the money be returned to the Palestinians and their account closed. “I want no dealings with them,” he said. Another was Atlas, a British investment firm, which managed tens of millions of dollars in Palestinian investments. The third was the Samuha family, a Jewish family which deals in investments in Geneva, and which for a time held a portion of the Palestinian investments in Switzerland.
The role of the Samuha family is larger and more interesting than that of the others. The family’s patriarch, Richard Samuha, together with his son Tony, serves as the driving force behind a large network of straw companies which belong to Mohammed Rashid and Yossi Ginosar. Samuha is the man who establishes the companies, registers them, closes them and establishes new ones, in an endless circle.
Ma’ariv has learned that Ginosar was a partner in a foreign company called Brichrobe. Another partner in the same company was Prof. Steve Cohen. Through the company, the two receive regular commission from deals between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Brichrobe then transfers set percentages to the various companies belonging to Mohammed Rashid. This whole complex system is run by Richard Samuha from Geneva. Later, as part of a circular deal for tax purposes, Ginosar and Cohen sold their holdings in the company and instead established a complex and completely secret system of alternative companies.
Ginosar’s response: “The country used my connections, not the other way around.”
Ma’ariv (p. 2) by Yossi Ginosar — My activities in the service of the country, of its leaders and institutions, during my time in the GSS, as the prime minister’s coordinator of POW affairs, and afterwards, were all carried out in unwavering loyalty to the country, to the mission and to those who entrusted me with it. Evidence of this can be found in the thanks and appreciation that I have received from national and security leaders over the years.
Throughout the period of my activities for the country with the Palestinian Authority and other Arab bodies in the region, I acted because the country approached me and made use of my special connections with the Palestinians as a private citizen. I did this voluntarily, covering the expenses with my personal account, and made a substantial contribution, not only during the peace process, but also to the security of Israel’s citizens in a direct fashion, sometimes without question saving human life.
The attempt to hint at something else, to cast doubt on this service, is baseless and wicked.
In this issue, the country made use of me and my connections, and not the other way around. I never asked for credit or payment, and I would not mention this were it not for the malicious insinuations directed at me by the journalist before the article’s publication. All of my activities as a businessman were carried out according to the law, along with notification, also required by law, of the relevant authorities.
The questions sent to me by the journalist before the article’s publication relate to my personal business dealings. Some of them are inaccurate and some are incorrect.
Throughout the years, the State of Israel and Israeli businessmen have made efforts to have economic contacts with any possible Arab partner. The wording of the questions raises concern that this is an attempt to use the tragic situation that now exists between us and the Palestinians in order to throw dirt on business activities which were normal and accepted at one time.
The general impression from the wording of the questions is that I held an official state position working with the Palestinian Authority while at the same time I worked to advance my own personal business interests. Presenting things in this fashion has no connection with reality, because the situation was completely different.
As a private citizen with special business connections with Palestinian and other Arab partners, I was approached by the country’s leaders because of those connections and asked to use them to advance the cause of the country and its security. They did so with complete trust in me, based on their familiarity with me and my service to the country.
Yossi Ginosar: G. from the GSS
Ma’ariv (p. 5) by Ma’ariv staff — Yossi Ginosar, 56, immigrated to Israel from Lithuania at the age of 12. He carried out his military service in the Military Adjutancy, and after his release studied economics and philosophy at the Hebrew University. During his studies he joined the GSS.
In his 19 years at the GSS, he filled a series of field and staff positions, and specialized in the area of combating terror. Among the senior positions he filled: director of the Northern District, director of the North American department in the security department, and head of the staff division.
During his years of service, his name was linked to two affairs that rocked the country. In 1984, Ginosar was appointed as a member of the committee of inquiry that investigated the events surrounding the hijacking of the number 300 bus. His role in the committee was to obscure the part of the GSS operatives in killing two of the hijackers, who were caught alive. Two years later, Ginosar’s deeds were revealed by three other senior GSS officials. A committee that investigated the issue referred to Ginosar as a “Trojan horse” on behalf of the GSS in the committee. At the end of 1986, Ginosar, who had been called G. throughout the progression of the affair, was forced to quit the GSS.
Upon the publication of his name and picture, the second affair exploded. Izat Nafsu, an IDF officer who had been imprisoned seven years previously for treason and espionage, fingered Ginosar as his interrogator and petitioned the High Court of Justice. Nafsu argued that Ginosar had extracted a confession from him through lies and torture. The appeal was upheld and Nafsu was released, despite having been convicted.
Ginosar is married for the second time and father of four, and lives in Kochav Yair. His late son Shahar was run over and killed by a Palestinian driver in the Gaza Strip in 1991.
This article ran in Maariv on December 5, 2002