A senior aide to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas took the stand Sunday in the trial of exiled Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan who is being tried in absentia on corruption charges.
The trial of Dahlan, once a leading figure in Abbas’s Fatah movement who headed Gaza’s powerful security forces, began in December.
The former security chief, who was expelled from Fatah in 2011 and now lives in the United Arab Emirates, has not been in court for any of the hearings in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
According to his legal team, the 53-year-old is on trial in connection with the alleged misuse of $17 million (15 million euros) in expenses.
In an appearance before the court on Sunday, the head of Abbas’s office, Hussein al-Araj, said he had not seen any documentation justifying how the money had been used by Dahlan.
Asked if he had asked Dahlan for paperwork to justify the expenses, he said: “No, and I don’t know if anyone else asked this either.”
Araj’s testimony was dismissed as “empty” by Sevag Torossian of Dahlan’s defence team, who said it would now be necessary for Abbas himself to testify.
“In calling Araj to testify, the court has used up its last fall guy and now it must face the consequences,” he told AFP, suggesting that Araj had testified in a bid to avoid Abbas being called to the stand.
“In his testimony, Araj said he didn’t see or hear anything (relating to Dahlan’s use of funds) so now I want to hear Abbas’s testimony because apparently he is the only one who would know what happened,” Torossian said.
– Abbas’s bitterest rival –
However, under Palestinian law, Dahlan’s absence means his legal team is denied access to the indictment itself or to any other court files pertaining to the trial.
They are also barred from cross-examining witnesses, prompting Torossian to denounce the trial as a “farce”.
The next hearing is set for February 15.
Dahlan, who once held the internal security portfolio and was head of security in the Gaza Strip, was formerly a leading figure in Fatah which controls the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Known for his fierce opposition to the Islamist Hamas movement, Dahlan led a merciless crackdown on the group in the 1990s, rounding up thousands of Islamists who refused to recognise the legitimacy of the newly created PA.
Once considered a US protege, he fell from grace in June 2007 after the humiliating rout of his forces by Hamas during days of fierce street battles in Gaza, which saw the Islamists expel Fatah from the territory.
In August 2009, Dahlan returned to the political stage when he was elected to Fatah’s ruling body.
But two years later, he was expelled from Fatah over allegations of financial corruption and murder, with the party deciding to refer his case to the attorney general and the anti-corruption commission.
Since then, he has been a bitter rival of Abbas, with the two trading allegations of complicity in the mysterious death of president Yasser Arafat in November 2004.