RAMALLAH, West Bank, (AP) – The Palestinian president has fired his chief of staff over involvement in a videotaped sex scandal that has shaken the Palestinian leadership, a presidential aide said Wednesday.
The firing is the latest chapter in a scandal that erupted in February when Israeli television broadcast a video showing the official, Rafiq Husseini, removing his clothes, climbing into bed and calling for a woman not his wife to join him — part of an alleged scheme to extort sex in exchange for political favors.
The tape sent shockwaves through conservative Palestinian society and further eroded public confidence in President Mahmoud Abbas and his aides, who are widely seen as aloof and out of touch with the public.
Speaking to The Associated Press on Wednesday, Husseini called the taping entrapment and said he never misused his position.
“The trap was in the end for the purpose of me stopping my work against corruption and against the Israeli occupation,” he said.
Nevertheless, the erudite, British-educated Husseini accepted the president’s decision, calling the mishap a “personal error of judgment.”
Abbas at first only suspended Husseini and appointed a committee to investigate the matter. His aide and a member of the committee, Rafiq Natche, said Wednesday that Abbas took their advice and fired Husseini.
“The committee decided to end the work of Rafiq Husseini because he admitted before the committee that he was caught in a place where he shouldn’t have been,” Natche said. He added that Abbas “praised” Husseini and called him a victim of entrapment.
Husseini has said he was set up by the woman and a Palestinian intelligence officer who made the tape.
The officer, Fahmi Shabaneh, has said he was trying to prove corruption in the upper ranks of the government. Shabaneh, who was fired in 2008 for alleged involvement in shady land deals, has tried to reinvent himself as an anti-corruption crusader, though he has not provided proof to back up his claims against Husseini.
To prevent similar scandals, Abbas has also prohibited Palestinian security from secretly videotaping people and violating their privacy, Natche said.
“The president issued a clear statement to the security apparatus that this shouldn’t happen under any circumstances,” Natche said.
The committee also recommended the Palestinian intelligence chief at the time, Tawfiq Tirawi, be banned from all government positions. Tirawi was removed from his post following the scandal and now heads a Palestinian security academy but it remains unclear whether he’ll be able to keep that job.