Connect with us

Archives

Panama Papers: Leaks reveal Abbas’ son’s $1m holding in company with ties to Palestinian Authority

Published

on

  • As Egypt relinquishes control of strategic islands to Saudi Arabia

Panama Papers leaked from law firm Mossack Fonseca uncover the exclusive club that lines the pockets of Palestine’s political and financial elite, Haaretz investigation finds.

The leaked documents of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca reveal a Palestinian “club” whose members link the financial and political worlds of the Palestinian Authority. The Panama Papers also show that Tareq Abbas, the son of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, held shares worth nearly $1 million in a company associated with the PA.

In September 1994, a company called the Arab Palestinian Investment Company (APIC) was registered in the British Virgin Islands. Eight months later, on May 24, 1995, a general assembly meeting was held at the Sheraton Hotel in Dubai, at which shareholders met for the first time. The first item on the agenda was accepting the resignation of someone called Khaldoun Sorour, who was listed as the sole company director for registration purposes only. He was replaced by a permanent director, Sheikh Omar Aggad – a Saudi businessman with Palestinian origins.

According to leaked minutes of that meeting, Aggad “spoke about the general goals of the company, the economic situation in the Arab world and the occupied territories, and about obstacles facing investors. He stressed that these necessitated the creation of jobs, so the Palestinian economy would not fall victim to the Israeli one.”

In the two decades since then, APIC had grown to be a comparative economic giant in Palestinian terms. It is active in almost every Palestinian economic sphere, from food and medical equipment to public relations, vehicles and shopping malls. Since 2014, it has been listed on the Palestinian stock exchange. The CEO and head of the board of directors is Tarek Aggad, Sheikh Omar’s son.

Since 1994, the involvement of the PA in this company has also grown. It doesn’t directly hold any shares, but the Palestinian Investment Fund – which is associated with Abbas’ bureau – holds 18 percent of the firm’s shares. Only Tarek Aggad holds more – 27%.

In the past, the PA owned some APIC shares through its predecessor, the Palestinian Commercial Services Company (PCSC). But after the international community demanded that then-President Yasser Arafat introduce more transparency in the holdings and assets of the PA, the Palestinian Investment Fund (PIF) was established in 2003, following which the PA’s shares were transferred to it.

According to its website, the fund is an independent investment company whose goal is to “strengthen the local economy through key strategic investments, while maximizing long-run returns for its ultimate shareholder; the people of Palestine.” In fact, the PA chairman has great influence over the fund. In 2006, straight after Hamas won the parliamentary elections, Abbas issued a presidential decree giving himself nearly total control over the fund’s board of directors.

“This presidential decree places the PIF more directly under the control of the office of the president” wrote then-U.S. consul in Jerusalem, Jake Walles, in a classified February 2006 cable that was exposed by WikiLeaks: “The billion dollar-plus investment portfolio of the PIF … is now more securely in the hands of President Abbas with a board that is of his choosing, except for the ministerial slots.”

The ties between APIC and the PA weren’t only financial but also personal. According to documents the company submitted to Mossack Fonseca, in June 2000 Mohammed Rashid was appointed to the board of governors. Rashid was Arafat’s close confidant and financial manager, serving in parallel as chairman of PIF.

The termination of Rashid’s appointment to the board is apt testimony to the political nature of his appointment: he left his post in APIC along with eight other board members and senior managers on December 15, 2004, just a month after the death of his political patron, Arafat.

Rashid was also chairman of PIF, but early in 2006 – soon after Abbas’ decree placed the fund in his control – Rashid was replaced by Mohammad Mustafa, Abbas’ economic adviser.

Two months later, in March 2006, Mustafa also joined APIC’s board of directors. In 2012, a Palestinian court convicted Rashid of embezzling millions of dollars, some of it taken from the PIF. Rashid does not live in the occupied territories and was convicted in absentia.

In 2011, a new member was added to APIC’s board of directors: Tareq Abbas, the PA chairman’s son. While his appointment is common knowledge, the Panama documents reveal that, as of June, 2013 he also possessed company shares worth some $982,000.

A further link to Abbas’ son exists through the public relations firm Sky, which dominates much of the Palestinian advertising market. According to attorney Kareem Shehadeh, who represents the Abbas brothers (Tareq and his older brother Yasser), Sky was established as a joint venture by the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram and the PCSC.

It was purchased by APIC in 1999, at which time Tareq was its deputy CEO, holding less than 10 percent of its shares. He was later appointed CEO of the company and currently serves as chairman of its board of directors, on behalf of APIC.

In 2009, Reuters published a story about the Abbas brothers, according to which companies managed by the two men won tenders worth over $2 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

According to the report, Sky signed a contract in 2006 for producing a public relations campaign intended to improve the image of the United States in the occupied territories. Shehadeh said at the time that any attempts to argue that they were chosen due to their family ties were “unethical and baseless.”

In June 2012, Foreign Policy also published a story on the Abbas brothers, dealing with their assets and wondering whether their business success was connected to their father’s position. Among other things, the article stated that Tareq, according to statements made by APIC, was involved with two more of its companies: He is deputy CEO of the Arab Palestinian Shopping Center Company, which owns several centers throughout the territories; and he is also on the board of directors at Unipal General Trading Company, the leading distributor in the territories. It distributes food, international-brand cigarettes, cosmetics, etc. According to APIC’s website, Abbas still holds these posts.

Abbas’ presence at APIC testifies to the superficiality of the due diligence conducted by the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca regarding its clients’ conflicts of interest.

According to international standards, the firm was supposed to check if its clients were “politically exposed persons” (PEP) – through government officials, family members or business associates. If someone is identified as such, the firm is expected to pay special attention that the person is not involved in money laundering, tax evasion or other corruption offenses.

The documents indicate that the investigation of Abbas did not reveal him to be the PA chairman’s son. This could be the result of a misspelling of one of his middle names (compared to his passport, which was sent to the law firm). However, some of the investigation involved a Google search, and the page of results attached to the investigation suggests the correct name spelling was used in the search. Nevertheless, the link was still missed.

Other prominent figures on APIC’s board of directors were identified by the Panamanian law firm. For example, Tarek Aggad was identified as a PEP due to his being on the board of directors at the PIF. Mohammad Mustafa was identified since he was serving as the deputy prime minister and economics minister at the time, and because he was also CEO of the investment fund. Khaled Osseili, another member of the APIC board of directors, was identified since he had served as mayor of Hebron in 2007.

Another person who was identified as a political figure was Dr. Durgham Maraee, an Israeli lawyer who is currently PIF’s representative on APIC’s board of directors (together with Mustafa). Maraee was identified as a PEP since he is on the PCSC board (the previous incarnation of the investment fund). Maraee is currently also the CEO of Wataniya Mobile, one of the two large cellular phone companies in the Palestinian Authority. PIF is one of the major shareholders in his company, holding 34 percent of its shares.

The links between PIF and Wataniya Mobile have often raised eyebrows. Then-U.S. Consul Walles touched on the matter in another document that was exposed in WikiLeaks, dated April 2009. Wataniya was about to go public at that time. The Palestinian prime minister at the time, Salam Fayyad, was negotiating with Israel with the aim of allocating frequencies so the company could commence its operations. At the same time he was negotiating with its competitor, PalTel, which was trying to renew its license.

“The interplay among the existing operator, the new licensee, the PA, and the GOI has provided a number of opportunities for collusion and double dealing,” wrote Walles, adding that Mahmoud Abbas’ “role in this, however, is complicated by the fact that the second mobile telecom provider (Wataniya) is largely capitalized by the Palestine Investment Fund (PIF), and [Abbas’] own economic adviser, Muhammad [sic] Mustafa, is both the Chair of the PIF and the CEO of Wataniya Palestine.”

Walles added that “it is also widely believed among Palestinians that [Mahmoud Abbas’] son, Yasser Abbas, has a financial stake in Wataniya.” The Abbas brothers’ representative flatly denied this in conversation with Haaretz. Furthermore, a similar claim was made in December 2007 on Israel’s Channel One News. Following that broadcast, the Abbas brothers filed a defamation suit against the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Ultimately, a mediated agreement led to the channel issuing a clarification, stating that “any suggestions the two brothers had shares in Wataniya were false and that apologies were extended to anyone who felt wronged by the original broadcast.”

Speaking on behalf of the Abbas brothers and APIC, attorney Kareem Shehadeh told Haaretz, “APIC is a publicly listed company in Palestine whose shares are traded daily on the stock exchange. It is subject to oversight by the renowned Deloitte accounting and auditing firm, and complete and transparent details of its dealings appear in an annual report that appears on its website. APIC’s operations are supervised by the Ministry of Commerce and the Palestine Capital Market Authority.”

Another source noted that “Tareq Abbas is a salaried employee at APIC, from this dates from before the time his father became the Palestinian Authority’s president. As far as I know, he has no involvement with the investment fund or the Palestinian Authority. Khaled Osseili is a private Hebron businessman who has served on the board of APIC since its inception, before and after he was elected Hebron’s mayor. Again, as far as I know, he was never a senior official at the Palestinian Authority. Durgham Maraee and Mohammad Mustafa are also on the APIC board, as representatives of the Palestinian Investment Fund.”

The office of Mahmoud Abbas did not respond to requests for a response to this article.

In the meantime, according to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Youm Al-Sabaa, the Egyptian cabinet announced an agreement with Saudi Arabia on Saturday, delineating the maritime boundaries between the two countries.

The Saudi boundary now includes the islands of Tiran and Sanafir, which rest at the mouth of the Gulf of Eilat.

The agreement comes as Saudi King Salman visits Cairo, where he and his counterpart Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi announced another agreement to build a bridge between Sharm El-Sheikh and Saudi Arabia.

According the Egyptian paper, Egypt and Saudi Arabia held more than 11 meetings in the past six years to reach a resolution on the demarcation of their maritime boundaries including three meetings in the past four months.

Saudi Arabia allowed Egypt to take control of the islands in 1950 and former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser blocked Israeli ships from crossing through the Straits of Tiran in May 1967. Israel used the blockade as one of its casus belli in launching a pre-emptive strike against Egypt in the Six-Day War. Israel occupied the islands from 1967 until the full implementation of the Camp David Accords – the Israel-Egypt peace treaty – in 1982.

Following the Israeli withdrawal from the islands, Egypt regained control. The Multinational Force Observers (MFO) – a US-led force established as a part of the Camp David Accords to monitor the Israel-Egypt peace agreement – set up an observation post on the island of Tiran in order to ensure the freedom of movement of Israeli vessels through the straits. The MFO still maintains presence on the island.

– – – Haaretz with additional report from Ynet

Archives

WAIVER CESSATION: Igbokwe urges NIMASA to evolve stronger collaboration with Ships owners

Published

on

…Stresses the need for timely disbursement of N44.6billion CVFF***

Highly revered Nigerian Maritime Lawyer, and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mike Igbokwe has urged the Nigeria Maritime Administration and safety Agency (NIMASA) to partner with ship owners and relevant association in the industry to evolving a more vibrant merchant shipping and cabotage trade regime.

Igbokwe gave the counsel during his paper presentation at the just concluded two-day stakeholders’ meeting on Cabotage waiver restrictions, organized by NIMASA.

“NIMASA and shipowners should develop merchant shipping including cabotage trade. A good start is to partner with the relevant associations in this field, such as the Nigeria Indigenous Shipowners Association (NISA), Shipowners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Oil Trade Group & Maritime Trade Group of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).

“A cursory look at their vision, mission and objectives, show that they are willing to improve the maritime sector, not just for their members but for stakeholders in the maritime economy and the country”.

Adding that it is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a through briefing and regular consultation with ships owners, in other to have insight on the challenges facing the ship owners.

“It is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a thorough briefing and regular consultations with shipowners, to receive insight on the challenges they face, and how the Agency can assist in solving them and encouraging them to invest and participate in the maritime sector, for its development. 

“NIMASA should see them as partners in progress because, if they do not invest in buying ships and registering them in Nigeria, there would be no Nigerian-owned ships in its Register and NIMASA would be unable to discharge its main objective.

The Maritime lawyer also urged NIMASA  to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF)that currently stands at about N44.6 billion.

“Lest it be forgotten, what is on the lips of almost every shipowner, is the need to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (the CVFF’), which was established by the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act, 2003. It was established to promote the development of indigenous ship acquisition capacity, by providing financial assistance to Nigerian citizens and shipping companies wholly owned by Nigerian operating in the domestic coastal shipping, to purchase and maintain vessels and build shipping capacity. 

“Research shows that this fund has grown to about N44.6billion; and that due to its non-disbursement, financial institutions have repossessed some vessels, resulting in a 43% reduction of the number of operational indigenous shipping companies in Nigeria, in the past few years. 

“Without beating around the bush, to promote indigenous maritime development, prompt action must be taken by NIMASA to commence the disbursement of this Fund to qualified shipowners pursuant to the extant Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (“CVFF”) Regulations.

Mike Igbokwe (SAN)

“Indeed, as part of its statutory functions, NIMASA is to enforce and administer the provisions of the Cabotage Act 2003 and develop and implement policies and programmes which will facilitate the growth of local capacity in ownership, manning and construction of ships and other maritime infrastructure. Disbursing the CVFF is one of the ways NIMASA can fulfill this mandate.

“To assist in this task, there must be collaboration between NIMASA, financial institutions, the Minister of Transportation, as contained in the CVFF Regulations that are yet to be implemented”, the legal guru highlighted further. 

He urged the agency to create the right environment for its stakeholders to build on and engender the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders.

“Lastly, which is the main reason why we are all here, cessation of ministerial waivers on some cabotage requirements, which I believe is worth applause in favour of NIMASA. 

“This is because it appears that the readiness to obtain/grant waivers had made some of the vessels and their owners engaged in cabotage trade, to become complacent and indifferent in quickly ensuring that they updated their capacities, so as not to require the waivers. 

“The cessation of waivers is a way of forcing the relevant stakeholders of the maritime sector, to find workable solutions within, for maritime development and fill the gaps in the local capacities in 100% Nigerian crewing, ship ownership, and ship building, that had necessitated the existence of the waivers since about 15 years ago, when the Cabotage Act came into being. 

“However, NIMASA must ensure that the right environment is provided for its stakeholders to build and possess the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders. Or better still, that they are solved within the next 5 years of its intention to stop granting waivers”, he further explained. 

Continue Reading

Archives

Breaking News: The Funeral Rites of Matriarch C. Ogbeifun is Live

Published

on

The Burial Ceremony of Engr. Greg Ogbeifun’s mother is live. Watch on the website: www.maritimefirstnewspaper.com and on Youtube: Maritimefirst Newspaper.

Continue Reading

Archives

Wind Farm Vessel Collision Leaves 15 Injured

Published

on

…As Valles Steamship Orders 112,000 dwt Tanker from South Korea***

A wind farm supply vessel and a cargo ship collided in the Baltic Sea on Tuesday leaving 15 injured.

The Cyprus-flagged 80-meter general cargo ship Raba collided with Denmark-flagged 31-meter wind farm supply vessel World Bora near Rügen Island, about three nautical miles off the coast of Hamburg. 

Many of those injured were service engineers on the wind farm vessel, and 10 were seriously hurt. 

They were headed to Iberdrola’s 350MW Wikinger wind farm. Nine of the people on board the World Bora were employees of Siemens Gamesa, two were employees of Iberdrola and four were crew.

The cause of the incident is not yet known, and no pollution has been reported.

After the collision, the two ships were able to proceed to Rügen under their own power, and the injured were then taken to hospital. 

Lifeboat crews from the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service tended to them prior to their transport to hospital via ambulance and helicopter.

“Iberdrola wishes to thank the rescue services for their diligence and professionalism,” the company said in a statement.

In the meantime, the Hong Kong-based shipowner Valles Steamship has ordered a new 112,000 dwt crude oil tanker from South Korea’s Sumitomo Heavy Industries Marine & Engineering.

Sumitomo is to deliver the Aframax to Valles Steamship by the end of 2020, according to data provided by Asiasis.

The newbuild Aframax will join seven other Aframaxes in Valles Steamship’s fleet. Other ships operated by the company include Panamax bulkers and medium and long range product tankers.

The company’s most-recently delivered unit is the 114,426 dwt Aframax tanker Seagalaxy. The naming and delivery of the tanker took place in February 2019, at Namura Shipbuilding’s yard in Japan.

Maritime Executive with additional report from World Maritime News

Continue Reading

Editor’s Pick

Politics