Bulletproof No More

A mural showing Mohammed Rashid, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's former financial adviser. The Palestinian Anti-Corruption Court convicted Rashid of embezzlement Thursday. / REUTERS

A Palestinian court has convicted Yasser Arafat’s former money handler of stealing some $33.5 million, money that international supporters had donated to better the lives of Palestinians on Arafat’s watch.

Mohammed Rashid, who ran the Palestine Investment Fund, was sentenced to 15 years in absentia and fined $15 million, the Associated Press has reported. Palestinian officials said they would seek to have Rashid’s assets frozen.

Rashid is believed to have business interests in four Middle Eastern countries and in Montenegro, the AP reported. Before his trial, Rashid had threatened to expose dirty secrets about Mahmoud Abbas, who succeeded Arafat as leader of the Palestinian Authority.

The Anti-Corruption Court in Ramallah convicted Rashid of embezzlement and money laundering. He left the Palestinian territories after Arafat’s death in 2004, and hid the money in a network of shell companies. While he has given media interviews, Rashid’s whereabouts are unknown.

Abbas set up the Anti-Corruption Court two years ago, in response to years of demands from the international community for greater transparency in the Palestinian territories.

Sweep to Arafat moneyman gets 15 years for corruption

In the end, “Bulletproof” was just the name of a boat. And Mr. Untouchable was just a book on board.

The owner of both, Kwame Brown, pleaded guilty Friday morning to felony bank fraud, two days after stepping down as chairman of the Washington, D.C. equivalent of the city council. He was expected to plead guilty later in the day to a second misdemeanor charge. He could face up to six months in prison for each.

Brown, 41, had the reputation of a young up-and-comer, with a towering love of speaking about himself–preferably in the third person. He earned the nickname “Fully Loaded” after ordering himself a well-tooled SUV on the taxpayer dime.

Brown faced double charges of making an illegal campaign expenditure in cash and bank fraud this week. His pleas Friday were part of an agreement with prosecutors.

Sadly, his case was not isolated.

Scandals involving the city government under DC Mayor Vincent Gray are spreading like kudzu. A month ago, two of Gray’s aides pleaded guilty to violations of campaign finance rules tied to Gray’s 2010 election–the subject of an intensifying federal investigation. The scrutiny began shortly after Gray’s victory, when after a former rival candidate, Sulaiman Brown (no relation to Kwame) told the Washington Post that Gray’s campaign had paid him to stay in the race and continue attacking the then-Mayor Adrian Fenty, who was running for reelection. Gray’s campaign, he said, also promised him a post-election job in the administration.

Earlier this year, Harry Thomas Jr., a council member, resigned under accusations he’d stolen $350,000 earmarked for youth sports and the arts.

As Elizabeth Flock reports in her U.S. News and World Report column, Washington Whispers, so fed up is the public that one former Justice Department intelligence analyst has posted an online counter, DCWithoutIndictment, to record how many days the district government has gone without an indictment. Current count: 1.

Sweep to Kwame Brown charged with misdemeanor count in 2008 campaign

In 2009, Florida’s then-Governor Charlie Crist convened a grand jury to investigate corruption in the state, after he’d had to fire 33 state employees over official wrongdoing in fewer than three years.

That didn’t just seem a like a lot of dishonesty. It was a lot of dishonesty.

Turns out that Florida, fourth in the country in population, is first in federal convictions for public corruption, according to Florida Integrity, a civic watchdog group.

The group studied federal Justice Department records for corruption-related convictions around the country, and found Florida first, with 781 convictions between 2000 and 2010. Next was California, a larger and far more populous state, with 753 convictions, Texas with 741 convictions and New York with 680 convictions.

In releasing the findings, the group called for greater transparency in local government, and broadening the legal authority of local officials to combat corruption.

Sweep to Florida leads country in corrupt convictions


Diana Jean Schemo

Diana Jean Schemo

Diana Jean Schemo is president and executive editor of 100Reporters, and the founder and co-director of the Double Exposure Film Festival and Symposium, the United States' only investigative film festival.