Richard North, 12/08/2004  

Not Sudan this time but OLAF, ECHO and the non-targeted funds supplied to the Palestinian Authority. OLAF, the Commission’s anti-fraud organization, that has been accused of being unable to keep its own house in order, has been investigating the use or misuse of the non-directed funds that the EU hands over to the Palestinian Authority. There have been accusations, based on documents supplied by Israel and authenticated by international experts that some of the money has found itself in terrorists’ hands.

We are not talking peanuts. The EU is the most important donor for the Palestinian Authority. In the past decade, it has transferred about €1.5 billion ($1.9 billion) to the Palestinian Authority. In July the European Commission said that total aid to the Palestinians in 2004 amounted to €250 million.

The European Parliament has managed to avoid coming to any conclusion on this subject and now OLAF has made a preliminary statement, according to which:
"To date, there is no evidence that funds from the non-targeted EU direct budget assistance to the Palestinian Authorities have been used to finance illegal activities, including terrorism."
Of course, “to date” counts for very little. OLAF, for instance, has not yet interviewed members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade in prison in Israel, who had told all and sundry that they had had money from the Palestinian Authority. It is not clear whether the investigators had looked at the documents presented as proof, accepted by numerous international organizations and experts, as I said above, but rejected out of hand, without reading, by Chris Patten.

Above all, it is not clear how OLAF knows that there is no evidence. It does not know what the money is spent on. The funds are non-targeted and, in any case, neither OLAF nor its predecessor UCLAF have ever demanded strict accounts from recipients or handlers of aid funds. The Court of Auditors has lambasted them on the subject a few times.

The Palestinian Authority’s budgetary regulations do not precisely live up to international standards. Yasser Arafat and the PA have been accused by various high-ranking Palestinians and former members of the PA hierarchy of corruption and siphoning off money. The whole thing is a mess. How does OLAF know what the money has gone on? If it does know and has evidence of all the goodly and entirely legitimate projects that the EU has financed through the PA, perhaps, we should see it. After all, it is our money.

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