Arafat widow disputes Tunisia corruption charge

Arafat widow disputes Tunisia corruption charge

The widow of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has denied all charges in a corruption probe into Tunisia's former first family over the construction of a school in Tunis Maan reported

Tunisian authorities issued an international arrest warrant for Suha Arafat on Monday. The courts have already convicted Ben Ali and his wife, in absentia, of theft, possession of drugs and weapons, and corruption.

But Arafat says she should not be seen as an associate of Leila Trabelsi, at least not since the former first lady had her stripped of citizenship and thrown out of the country.

Arafat says the trouble began when she took out a $200,000 loan to build a school in Tunis. The Tunisian government had offered the land for free in accordance with laws offering real estate for educational use.

However she told Ma'an she waived her share of the project as Ben Ali's wife later shut down the project in the capital. She added that she has all the legal papers proving her decision to withdraw from the project.

Arafat used to spend much of her time in Tunisia and was for many years close to Trabelsi, who was forced to flee by the north African country's revolution in January.

After the death of the Palestinian leader in 2004, his widow received a Tunisian passport and was frequently seen in Tunisia alongside Trabelsi, a former hairdresser whose relatives came to control much of the economy.

Since Tunisia's revolution, which set in motion the Arab Spring uprisings across the region, prosecutors have been pursuing dozens of people linked to the former first lady on charges of corruption.

Arafat says a "campaign" against her aims to distort the image of her late husband and Palestine. The campaign, according to her, was launched just as Palestine was readying to join the UN. In the Israeli media, she said, her case has attracted considerable attention "in order to distort the image of Palestine."

"If Yasser Arafat were alive, he would tell me this doesn't deserve a response."

Arafat was stripped of her Tunisian nationality and deported in 2007 after a dispute with Trabelsi. She says that she has all the messages which Leila sent showing that her citizenship was revoked amid the dispute.

She added that Trabulsi asked the Tunisian security to empty Arafat's house while she was in Malta. Arafat said that Leila threatened to throw their personal belongings into the street at one point.

Arafat says she respects the Tunisian people who have always supported the Palestinians, their own revolution and the late president Yasser Arafat. She hopes the Arab Spring stays on track.

Arafat also disclosed that she receives a monthly salary from the Palestinian Authority amounting to $12,000 per month. She and her daughter live off of it, she said.

Her daughter, Zahwa, is now 16 and will go to university next year. Both women hope to return to Palestine soon but Israel has confiscated her ID and refuses to provide a new one, she says.

The Arafat family established ties to Tunisia in the period when the Palestine Liberation Organisation was exiled and set up its headquarters in Tunis in the 1980s and early 1990s.

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