x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Jordan jails leading figures for graft

Jordan's efforts to stamp out corruption were intensified this week after a court sentenced four prominent Jordanians, including a former minister.

AMMAN // Jordan's efforts to stamp out corruption were intensified this week after a court sentenced four prominent Jordanians, including a former minister, to three years in prison for graft. The three were sentenced in a security court on Tuesday, but corruption monitors say they would like to see similar cases dealt with in the Court of Cassation.

"We do not want the government to be choosy in tackling corruption, but rather we want to see a continuing process," said Mamdouh Abbadi, a former member of parliament and the president of the Jordanian chapter of Transparency International, a corruption monitor. "We would like more cases referred to the court of cassation and not a military court, which is a special court." Critics say security courts are not sufficiently independent from government. Indeed, during the trial, defence lawyers contested the court's legality, saying it violated the principle of separation of government and judiciary.

The court found Adel Qudah, a former finance minister and former chairman of the Jordan Petroleum Refinery Co (JPRC); a former JPRC director-general, Ahmad Rifai; the prime minister's economic adviser, Mohammad Rawashdeh, and a businessman, Khaled Shaheen, guilty of bribery, but acquitted the first three of misuse of public office. The case, which gripped the nation for months, involved the selection of a strategic partner for a expansion project at the JPRC, the country's sole refinery, that was worth $2.1 billion (Dh7.7bn).

The three former officials were convicted of accepting bribes from Mr Shaheen, a business tycoon, in order to secure a contract for his company as the strategic partner for the expansion project at the refinery. The defendants remained free on bail until the Court of Cassation issues a final verdict. Corruption cases involving public officials are extremely rare in Jordan. When he took office in December, the prime minister, Samir Rifai, announced a campaign against corruption. Since then, a handful of cases have been referred to the Anti-Corruption Commission.

The media were barred from covering the deliberations. Analysts would not comment on the court's ruling as it is considered a felony to criticise a court decision carrying a possible prison sentence. "What we can say is the case seems to be an isolated event because the government is not activating the legislative branch in fighting corruption," said Ghassan Muamar, a lawyer specialising in corporate law in Amman.

"There is no system or methodology to fight corruption, nor a fully independent judiciary. We do not want the government only to inflate balloons and pop them, we would like to see a system rooted in fighting corruption." smaayeh@thenational.ae