RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinian officials on Friday rallied around a top aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after a video surfaced showing him in the nude in an alleged attempt to trade his influence for sex.
The footage of Rafiq Husseini, shot by a former Palestinian intelligence officer, has raised an uproar in conservative Palestinian society.
In the video, broadcast by Israeli TV earlier this week, Husseini is shown undressing in a bedroom and calling out to an unseen woman, heard speaking off camera, to join him. "Do I turn off the light or do you? What is the procedure?" Husseini is heard asking the woman.
The former Palestinian intelligence officer, Fahmi Shabaneh, said he secretly took the footage in collusion with the unidentified woman. He said the woman had complained to him that Husseini was making suggestive remarks when she went to his office to ask for help with a family problem. Shabaneh said he then installed cameras in the woman's bedroom and filmed Husseini's next encounter with the woman.
The video was first broadcast by Israel's Channel 10 TV on Wednesday, and Husseini has declined comment. He was expected to present his case later Friday on Palestine TV.
Abbas, who is traveling in the Far East and due back in the West Bank on Monday, has not commented.
The independent West Bank-based Maan news agency urged Husseini in an editorial to step down pending an investigation, arguing that he could no longer carry out his job effectively. "This is embarrassing to the Palestinian Authority, this is embarrassing to our people, this is embarrassing to our families," Maan editor-in-chief Nasser Laham, who wrote the editorial, said in an interview.
However, Laham also portrayed the Abbas aide as a victim of a smear campaign, calling Israeli TV's airing of the footage "a lynching."
Abbas' Fatah movement said it would "not allow anyone to use his position to serve his personal agenda and fantasies" and that it would look into the matter, but stopped short of announcing an investigation.
Abbas aide Nimr Hamad said Husseini would remain in his post as Abbas' bureau chief for now.
Palestinian officials claimed that the video is part of an attempt by Israel to discredit Abbas and his government and denounced Shabaneh as a collaborator with Israel.
The allegations come at a time of deadlock in U.S. attempts to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Abbas has said he won't resume negotiations until Israel freezes settlement construction.
Shabaneh said he was appointed by Abbas, who was elected in 2005, to investigate corruption suspicions. He said that when he went to Abbas with his findings, he was ignored.
In the Channel 10 broadcast, Shabaneh produces documents allegedly showing that Palestinian Authority officials have stolen millions of dollars in public funds.
The TV report did not name the officials who allegedly stole the money, but said they include Abbas confidants. It said one method was to overbill the Palestinian government for real estate purchases made in its name.
Corruption was rampant under Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004.
Abbas' prime minister, respected economist Salam Fayyad, is credited with cleaning up public finances in the Palestinian Authority since Arafat's death. Fayyad handles hundreds of millions of dollars in money from donor countries every year and publishes details on government spending.
Palestinian anti-corruption campaigners said that while nepotism still exists in the Palestinian Authority, money is now tightly controlled.