Palestinian leader persecuted after exposing Arafat deceit
Jaweed al-Ghussein, who has died aged 77, was a Palestinian philanthropist, educationist and former chairman of the Palestinian National Fund. In that role, he drew attention to the extensive corruption of his colleague Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). His whistleblowing was met with a sustained campaign of persecution by the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Ghussein was born in Gaza, the son of a prominent land-owning family. He attended the Friends school in Ramallah, but with the creation of Israel in 1948, the family, like many fellow Palestinians, became refugees. However, unlike many others, the Ghusseins could afford to send their son to complete his education at the American University in Cairo, where he studied economics and first met Arafat. The two became friends: while the young Arafat pursued a political career, Ghussein went into business, with huge success.
In 1964, having moved his family to Britain, he set up, with an American consortium, an engineering and construction company, Cordoba, in Abu Dhabi. The company became a major player in establishing the infrastructure of the oil-rich desert sheikdom. Cordoba built the first water pipeline from the oasis of Al Ain to Abu Dhabi city as well as roads, hospitals and many of the most important buildings in the emirate, including the iconic Sheik Zayed cultural centre.
During this time of plenty, Ghussein clung on to his Palestinian roots and traditions. He personally funded the education of many young Palestinians and then made sure they got the jobs to match their qualifications, either at Cordoba or elsewhere. He was a passionate believer in peaceful co-existence with Israel and determined to ensure the rights of all Palestinians. Inevitably, he entered politics.
In 1984 Ghussein was reunited with Arafat, and became chairman of the Palestinian National Fund, the financial arm of the PLO. He soon began to suspect that money intended to help families and fighters in the resistance was being siphoned off by the PLO leader into secret bank accounts. "None of us ever knew how much Arafat got from the Arab states," he said recently. "It could have been billions." Known payments included two from Saddam Hussein, each for $50m, which were neither acknowledged nor audited.
Ghussein kept his suspicions to himself, out of loyalty to the PLO and a fear of what he called "washing dirty linen in public". But when he criticised Arafat's backing of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, instigating the first Gulf war in 1990, their relationship collapsed. Six years later Ghussein, sickened by the deceit and hypocrisy that surrounded him, resigned very publicly on Abu Dhabi television when he called for accountability and transparency in the PLO.
From that moment on, he was a marked man. An extraordinary campaign of innuendo and accusation was orchestrated by the PA, alleging misappropriation of funds. Despite all accusations against him being quashed, in 2000 Ghussein, while attending a wedding reception in Abu Dhabi, was abducted and bundled into a private jet, taken to Gaza and held captive by the PA. He was eventually allowed to travel to Cairo for cancer treatment, but a group of armed men burst into his hospital room, kidnapped him and took him back to Gaza. Only international pressure led by Amnesty International secured his release, and he was finally brought to London for urgent medical treatment.
This period of persecution left Ghussein's health permanently damaged, and saw the huge wealth he had built up virtually disappear. Cordoba, with a one-time annual turnover of around $1bn, had ground to a halt, mostly because clients had allowed huge debts to accumulate. They remain unpaid.
Ghussein insisted on maintaining the Palestinian tradition of warmth and boundless hospitality at his London home in Mayfair. Every evening, guests, not necessarily invited but always welcome, would turn up for good conversation, followed by the inevitable itfaddalou - sit, eat, join us at our table. He had, according to his daughter Mona Bauwens, an "open house, open heart".
He never stopped trying to ease the Palestinian people's suffering and was co-founder, with the industrialist Arnold Weinstock among others, of the New Century Foundation, a non-governmental organisation created specifically to encourage dialogue between adversaries.
Recently he was honoured by the American University in Cairo in recognition of his services to education in Palestine. In his acceptance speech at the ceremony in London, all he uttered was a cry for help for Palestine. He is survived by his wife Khalida, Mona and son Tawfiq.
· Jaweed al-Ghussein, businessman and political activist, born July 18 1930; died July 1 2008