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Arafat’s widow denies Tunisia’s corruption charges | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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TUNIS/RAMALLAH, Asharq Al-Awsat – The Tunisian government has issued an arrest warrant for the widow of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in connection with a corruption investigation into the “International School of Carthage”, the Tunisian state-run news agency reported on Monday. The International School of Cartage was founded by Suha Arafat – wife of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat – and former Tunisian First Lady Leila Ben Ali Trabelsi, wife of ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

In 2007, the Tunisian authorities withdrew Suha Arafat’s Tunisian nationality, reportedly over a falling out between Suha Arafat and Trabelsi. Suha Arafat had chosen to live in Tunisia following the death of her husband. The falling out between Arafat and Trabelsi was reportedly over the Tunisian government’s closure of the Louis Pasteur-Bouabdelli School, a move that Suha Arafat opposed.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat from Malta, Suha Arafat denied the charges against her, claiming that everything that has been published about her connection to the International School of Carthage is untrue, stressing that “I renounced any connection to this school immediately after objections were made by French Ambassador Serge Degallaix, who said that the new school was built as an alternative to the French school in the Tunisian capital and would result in its closure.”

She added “I telephoned Ben Ali’s wife and informed her of the French objection, and she responded that he [French Ambassador Degallaix] has nothing to do with this issue, saying this is our country and we are free to act as we like.”

Suha Arafat told Asharq Al-Awsat that “after this, I took the decision to withdraw [from the International School of Carthage].” She also revealed that “I had borrowed 300,000 Tunisian Dinars [approximately $200,000] from the Tunisian Banque de L’Habitat to be paid back within 5 years, but after this [my decision to withdraw] Leila [Trabelsi] sent me her accountant, Raja Ismail, and I signed a waiver of my shares in the school” She added “they returned $30,000 to me that I had paid to the bank as part of the loan, which then passed to the account of [Leila] Ben Ali, and that was the end [of my connection to the International School of Carhtage].”

She confirmed that she possessed documents corroborating this, adding that she had surrendered these documents to her lawyers. Arafat also expressed her surprise at the “fabrication of charges” against her at this time when the Palestinian leadership is achieving successes in several different fields, asking “why now, after all of these years?”

She said “it seems that the fifth column continues to operate, and wants to distort the image of the Palestinians, or others are completely misguided.”

Arafat said that she informed the Palestinian leadership of the developments in this case, and also revealed that she is in constant contact with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other senior Palestinian officials.

Answering a question about whether her departure from Tunisia was related to this case, Suha Arafat told Asharq Al-Awsat that “yes, I had severed my ties with the school, and so the Ben Ali family took the decision to expel me…they threw my possessions – and those of my late husband Yasser Arafat – into the street” adding “even the Israelis did not act in this manner.”