x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

International arrest warrant issued for Arafat's widow

Allegations over founding of school in Tunis with the former first lady of Tunisia are behind the move.

Yasser Arafat's wife, Suha, waits to leave the Alenby Bridge crossing point between Israel and Jordan on her way to visit her sick husband in Ramallah in 2004.
Yasser Arafat's wife, Suha, waits to leave the Alenby Bridge crossing point between Israel and Jordan on her way to visit her sick husband in Ramallah in 2004.

TUNIS // A Tunisian court has issued an international arrest warrant against the widow of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat over alleged corruption, a justice official said yesterday.

The justice ministry spokesman, Kadhem Zine el Abidine, said a Tunis court had issued the warrant against 48-year-old Suha Arafat, who was stripped of her Tunisian citizenship in 2007 and currently lives in Malta.

He gave no reason for the move. According to Tunisian papers, Suha Arafat is wanted over alleged corruption dating to the spring of 2007, when she founded the Carthage International School in Tunis with the country's much-vilified former first lady, Leila Trabelsi.

The two women then fell out, purportedly over Mrs Arafat's criticism of an alleged move by Trabelsi to close down another private school that would have been in direct competition with their joint venture.

According to a US diplomatic cable revealed by WikiLeaks, Mrs Arafat met the then US ambassador after the dispute and lashed out at the ruling family. She said that the now ousted dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, would spend all day in his residence running after his young son and "simply does what his wife asks him to do".

Mrs Arafat was subsequently declared persona non grata, stripped of her Tunisian nationality in 2007, less than a year after acquiring it, and expelled.

She settled in Malta, where her brother served as Palestinian ambassador.

In a telephone interview on Saturday with the London-based Arabic-language daily Al Quds Al Arabi, Ms Arafat said she no longer had any link with the Carthage International School.

"I gave up this school to Asma Mahjoub, the niece of Leila Ben Ali," she said.

Born into a well-to-do Christian Palestinian family, Suha Arafat married the Palestinian leader in 1990, though the marriage was not revealed until two years later.

She served as secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which was based in Tunisia between 1982 and 1994.

Mrs Arafat gave birth to the couple's only child, Zahwa, in 1995 in a private hospital in Paris, but marital life quickly degenerated into a de facto separation.

While her husband shepherded the Palestinian cause in Gaza and Ramallah, Mrs Arafat was often accused of siphoning the aspiring state's meagre funds to bankroll her lavish lifestyle in Paris.

After her husband's death in November 2004, Mrs Arafat returned to Tunisia, where she was eventually granted Tunisian citizenship for a second time.

Ben Ali was ousted in January following an uprising and the country's interim rulers have initiated hundreds of corruption trials against the exiled dictator and his entourage.