Rory McCarthy
The Guardian
April 12, 2010 - 12:00am

A disgraced senior Palestinian official at the centre of a sex tape scandal claims he was entrapped and says he has not abused his position.

Rafiq Husseini, who also holds British citizenship, was dismissed last week as President Mahmoud Abbas's chief of staff at the end of a long-running scandal. He was shown in a secretly recorded video, broadcast on Israeli television earlier this year, meeting a woman who was not his wife at her apartment in Jerusalem, undressing, climbing into bed and calling for her to join him. There were also allegations that Husseini was involved in serious corruption, along with other Palestinian figures, but no evidence has emerged to support the claim.

Husseini, who studied at Loughborough and City universities in Britain, admitted to the Guardian that he had made an "error of judgment" but said the woman he was caught with on film was someone he had known for several years and that it was "an issue of personal liberties. But the most important conclusion is that I have not abused my position," he said. "I have not used my office for any blackmail or sexual favours."

The unprecedented recording became an immediate scandal in conservative Palestinian society and seemed only to undermine further the already fragile rule of Abbas. The president said in a letter that his aide had "committed personal mistakes" but he also praised Husseini's work, said he had not misused his office and condemned the secret filming as a "hideous action".

The Palestinian intelligence officer behind the scandal, who has himself since quit and is now under house arrest in Jerusalem facing trial in an Israeli court, has tried to reinvent himself as a whistleblower and said he has reams of documents which he claims will expose how millions of dollars were corruptly pocketed by several senior Palestinian figures. "There is a lot of information and a lot of people haven't seen it yet," he said. "People are very angry about corruption. But we haven't been holding people to account."

He has set up his own website encouraging Palestinians to write in and expose examples of official corruption, misconduct and nepotism. The Palestinian leadership has been dogged by corruption scandals for years and that played a key role in the defeat of Abbas's movement, Fatah, at the last elections four years ago.

The latest scandal began in the summer of 2008 when the intelligence officer, Fahmi Shabaneh, installed secret video cameras in the apartment of a Palestinian woman in Jerusalem. He filmed Husseini meeting the woman several times, over several hours of recordings. Then on the night Husseini lay in bed waiting for the woman, Shabaneh, then a senior officer with the Palestinian intelligence service, walked into the room with his colleagues and surprised him.

The case was brought to Abbas. But Shabaneh's initial belief that he was on to a major corruption scandal began to unravel quickly. Abbas appeared to take Husseini's side and was reportedly angry at the secret filming. Shabaneh's boss, Tawfiq Tirawi, the Palestinian intelligence chief, was fired and Shabaneh himself later resigned. Last year Shabaneh, a Jerusalemite, was arrested by the Israeli authorities on charges of working for Palestinian intelligence from Jerusalem, a crime under Israeli law. He was jailed for nearly two months and then allowed out under house arrest, where he remains, awaiting trial.

Frustrated that he had made no headway against Husseini, Shabaneh went to an Israeli television channel with the most embarrassing scenes from his recordings. The Palestinians promptly set up an investigative committee, which last week recommended Husseini be sacked. Shabaneh says he will release other evidence against other senior officials if more is not done against corruption.


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