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Al Arabiya exclusive: Suha Arafat denies corruption charges

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Suha Arafat, the widow of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, denied involvement in corruption in Tunisia after the country issued an arrest warrant for her and said she was ready to face all charges to prove her innocence.

Tunisian authorities issued an international arrest warrant for Arafat as part of a corruption probe into Tunisia’s former first family, the justice ministry said on Monday.

“Tunisia issued an arrest warrant against Mrs. Arafat on suspicion of involvement in cases of financial corruption with the family of Ben Ali’s wife,” said Shokri Nafti, a spokesman for the justice ministry.

In an interview with the daily Panorama program, aired by Al Arabiya on Tuesday, Arafat said that “the accusations were just an attempt to mess with the legacy of martyr Yasser Arafat. If Abu Ammar was still alive, he would have asked me to ignore the accusations. The Israeli mass media seized the opportunity and focused on the name of Yasser Arafat, more than my name, in an attempt to mess with his reputation.”

Arafat expressed her deep sorrow that such accusations came at the time of marking “the 7th anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s martyrdom.”

“It also comes at the time in which the Palestinian Authority has accomplished a huge victory by winning the Unesco membership, which is a step in the way of gaining full U.N. membership,” she said.

Asked about the reason that she was staying in Malta, Arafat said that she was “literally kicked out” of her house in Tunisia. “My house furniture and all my personal belongings have been thrown in the street by Laila al-Traboulsi [the former Tunisian first lady], after my withdrawal from the Carthage International School project.”

The Arafat family established ties with Tunisia in the period when the Palestine Liberation Organization was exiled, and set up its headquarters in Tunis in the 1980s and early 1990s.

After the death of the Palestinian leader, in 2004, his widow received a Tunisian passport and was frequently seen in Tunisia alongside former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s wife, according to Reuters.

But Arafat was stripped of her Tunisian nationality and deported in 2007 after a dispute with Trabelsi. She now lives in Malta, according to a Palestinian source who was once close to the Arafat family.

The charges she faces in Tunisia include alleged corruption involving the establishment of the Carthage International School ,in which she was involved with Trabelsi.

Arafat on Monday said she severed her links to the school in 2007 and had documents to prove that she had sold her shares to Asma Mahjoub, the niece of the former first lady.

Since Tunisia’s revolution, which set in motion Arab uprisings across the region, prosecutors have been pursuing dozens of people linked to the former first lady on charges of corruption.

The courts have also convicted Ben Ali and his wife, in absentia, of theft, possession of drugs and weapons, and corruption. Ben Ali’s lawyer denies the charges.

(Translated from Arabic by Abeer Tayel.)