A former associate of deceased Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat [JURIST news archive] was convicted in absentia on Thursday of embezzling money and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Mohammed Rashid [Reuters profile], along with two other businessmen, was convicted in a special Palestinian corruption court based on allegations that he set up dummy corporations in order to steal government money. The court has ordered him to repay the government [Reuters report] over $33 million in alleged stolen funds. Rashid, whose whereabouts are unknown, has said that the charges are a politically motivated move by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas [BBC profile] and the Palestinian Authority (PA) [CFR backgrounder] to discredit former political foes.
Rashid left Palestine in 2004 after Arafat's death. He is believed to own several homes in the gulf region. PA officials have indicated that they are they currently investigating other officials on corruption allegations.