x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

PM's cheque creates a new storm in Kuwait

Parliament is split after an MP raises alarm over a 200,000 dinar cheque to a former member from Sheikh Al Sabah's personal account.

KUWAIT CITY // Kuwait's crisis-ridden national assembly is under threat yet again just two weeks after the end of its summer recess as several MPs want to question the prime minister over a range of issues including allegations of giving money to a former member of the house.

Similar threats to interpellate Sheikh Nasser Mohammed Al Ahmed Al Sabah in the past have led the emir to dissolve parliament or the cabinet to resign to protect him from potential humiliation. The discord has not prevented MPs from trying to quiz the prime minister, which they are constitutionally allowed to do. The means by which one MP, Faisal al Muslim, mounted a challenge to the prime minister in the assembly last week could spark a legal battle. Mr al Muslim projected on a screen a photocopy of a cheque for 200,000 Kuwaiti dinars (Dh2.6 million), which he said was from the prime minister to an unnamed former MP. He did not reveal how he had obtained the cheque drawn on Burgan Bank.

The prime minister's lawyer, Emad al Saif, said he would file lawsuits against the MP for breaching bank confidentiality laws, the local press reported. In a statement last week, the lawyer said the cheque was issued from Sheikh Al Sabah's personal account, and he can spend these funds as he pleases, citing an article of the constitution that guarantees personal property. He also said the law guarantees the secrecy of personal accounts.

Burgan Bank has also said it will file lawsuits against Mr al Muslim and any employee who was involved in giving him a copy of the cheque. But on Sunday night, Mr al Muslim's lawyer, Nahis al Anzi, said: "We've been hearing for three of four days that there was going to be a case and nothing has been filed officially - And even if they want to, we welcome any case to be filed because justice is for everybody."

Mr al Anzi said the prime minister's lawyer is trying to frighten Mr al Muslim with legal action, so he will not try to question the prime minister, but "Mr al Muslim has immunity, and these things won't affect him". He added that Mr al Muslim is definitely going ahead with the interpellation. He said: "It's not a crime to photocopy a cheque; it's a crime to misuse it." Kuwait's MPs are protected by diplomatic immunity, although it can be removed by parliament.

Mr al Anzi said the source of the cheque was not important, but the fact that it was issued at all. He said: "The case is: on what ground are you giving an MP 200,000, or even 50,000, Kuwaiti dinars for any reason? "Even if it's from his personal account, he should declare his reasons behind giving the money. Does any member of parliament have the right to receive this money or not?" He said Kuwait signed a UN treaty against corruption in 2003, which covers all officials in the legislative and executive branches of government. "Any of these employees are criminalised if they give money or privilege of any sort to other officials," and if they do it is corruption.

On Sunday, both the MP and the prime minister received support from members of the 50-seat parliament. Massouma al Mubarak, who was selected for the cabinet on three occasions, said: "What we are witnessing is an abuse in the name of democracy and the constitution - The MP is supposed to verify the legality of his source of information. "We have many projects and challenges for development, and we have to work hard to implement them. We should not preoccupy ourselves with grilling requests at this stage," Ms al Mubarak said.

Other MPs, including the Islamist MP Mohammed al Hayef, have supported the MP's right to display the cheque. "Dr al Muslim did not violate any law," Mr al Hayef said. "He has used his right in the parliament and the prime minister has the right to respond and clarify any suspicion people have against him." In addition to the cheque scandal, the prime minister is facing several other threats to interpellate him.

One from Mr al Hayef, who objects to changes in the school curriculum that make music classes compulsory in schools. He said: "We will not allow our schools to become centres for graduating dancers," the AFP news agency reported. Mr al Hayef adheres to a conservative branch of Islam that believes music is prohibited. Other MPs have threatened to grill the prime minister over pollution and his handling of the financial crisis.

jcalderwood@thenational.ae