x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Jordanian PM escapes corruption indictment in tight vote

In a high-profile corruption case involving the licensing of a casino on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, Jordan's parliament voted 53 to 50 not to indict Marof Bakhit.

AMMAN // Jordan's parliament yesterday narrowly cleared the prime minister from involvement in a high-profile corruption case involving the licensing of a casino on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea.

Parliament voted 53 to 50 not to indict Marof Bakhit. Ten other members abstained from the impeachment vote and six did not attend the session, according to the official news agency.

On Sunday, a 10-member parliamentary committee accused the prime minister, in a 65-page report, of abuse of power and held him "morally and legally accountable" in a case that has gripped the nation for several months. Sixteen former ministers including one serving cabinet member were also implicated.

The 120-member lower house of parliament began debating the case yesterday ahead of the expected vote.

According to the constitution, parliament is the only body authorised to impeach ministers after securing two-thirds of the house's vote. The casino case dates back to 2007 when Mr Bakhit's government signed an agreement with a British Company, Oasis Holding Investment Ltd, to operate a casino in Sweimeh. The deal was to give the government up to 40 per cent of the revenue. But, under much public pressure, the agreement was put on hold.

Gambling, which is against Islamic law, is banned in Jordan unless the government approves a law that sanctions it. At the time of the agreement, a higher council of tourism in 2007 approved a decision to include gambling as a tourist profession.

But the government violated the tourism law when it did not publish the decision in the Gazette, the government's official record, said Rabie Hamzeh, an independent attorney and an advisor to the ministry of tourism. "The tourism law also specifies that there be licensing procedures for any tourist profession, but this did not take place also," Mr Hamzeh said.

The agreement was also criticised because it requires any dispute be arbitrated in the United Kingdom instead of Jordan.

"Jordanian courts have no jurisdiction over the agreement and the dispute. It should be according to the country's laws. Jordan is a sovereign country," Mr Hamzeh said.

Last week, Mr Bakhit asked for a discussion of the case to be included in an extraordinary session of parliament.

smaayeh@thenational.ae