By Ivan Angelovski and Lawrence Marzouk
Mohammed Dahlan, the powerful arch-rival to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, was sentenced in absentia to three years of prison by a court in Ramallah on Wednesday.
Dahlan has always maintained his innocence, claiming he is the victim of political persecution. His Parisian lawyer, Sevag Torossian, previously told BIRN that the corruption allegations against his client amounted to “accounting issues”, but he did not respond to our request for comment on his sentence.
Yesterday he told AFP that the conviction was a “cleansing exercise” for Abbas. Salameh Halaseh, another lawyer working for the Palestinian politician, told the agency he had been informed of the hearing on Tuesday, the day Dahlan’s case reopened after more than a year’s break.
Dahlan, who has held Montenegrin citizenship since 2010 and Serbian citizenship since 2013, was accused of embezzling $18 million of public money in 2007 from the Palestinian Authority, PA.
According to the indictment, the money was placed in private accounts controlled by Dahlan who was the security chief of the PA at that time, before the cash was withdrawn by his associates.
The prosecution said Dahlan offered no evidence of where the money went or was spent.
The case was dropped in April 2015 after a court ruled that a presidential decision to lift Dahlan’s immunity should have been taken by the Palestinian parliament.
The constitutional court in Ramallah over-ruled this last month.
It said Abbas was entitled to remove the MP’s protection on his own authority as the Palestinian assembly was not in session.
As an adviser to Prince Muhammad Bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Dahlan played a critical role in building political and economic ties between the Gulf state and Serbia and Montenegro.
The 55-year-old was once seen as Yasser Arafat’s heir apparent but lost out to Abbas in 2003. He was kicked out of the ruling Fatah movement in 2011 after Abbas accused him of corruption and hinted he may have been involved in Arafat’s death, a claim that resurfaced in recent weeks in a report by a Palestinian special commission.
Living in exile in Abu Dhabi since then, while also renting a villa in Belgrade, he has formed a powerful network of backers spanning Europe and the Middle East and built support for himself in Gaza and the West Bank by channelling Gulf funds to Palestinian refugee camps.
While Dahlan maintains that he is not interested in succeeding Abbas, he remains a frontrunner for the job and has made no secret of his desire to return to politics in his homeland.