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On the Record

Arafat’s Billions

The following transcript is an excerpt from the November 9th broadcast of 60 minutes.

“What is Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian Authority worth today?” asks accountant Jim Prince. “Who is controlling that money? Where is that money? How do we get it back?”

Martin Indyk, a top adviser on the Middle East in the Clinton administration and now head of the Saban Center, says Arafat was always traveling the world, looking for handouts. Money, he says, is “essential” to Arafat’s survival.

“Arafat for years would cry poor, saying, ‘I can’t pay the salaries, we’re gonna have a disaster here, the Palestinian economy is going to collapse,'” says Indyk. “And we would all mouth those words: ‘The Palestinian economy is going to collapse if we don’t do something about this.’ But at the same time, he’s accumulating hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The stockpile went well beyond the portfolio. Arafat accumulated another $1 billion with the help of—of all people—the Israelis. Under the Oslo Accords, it was agreed that Israel would collect sales taxes on goods purchased by Palestinians and transfer those funds to the Palestinian treasury. But instead, Indyk says, “that money is transferred to Yasser Arafat to, amongst other places, bank accounts which he maintains off-line in Israel.”

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