Jordan freezes assets in refinery graft scandal

* Assets frozen of defendants and close relatives

* Such detentions relatively rare

By Suleiman al-Khalidi

AMMAN, March 9 (BestGrowthStock) – Jordan on Tuesday froze assets of
an ex-finance minister, a business tycoon and a senior
government aide as a legal probe sought to unravel a major graft
scandal that has rocked the political establishment.

Jordanian authorities detained last week as part of a major
graft crackdown Adel Qudah, a former finance minister, top
business mogul Khaled Shaheen, Mohammad Rawashdeh, a senior
economic adviser of the prime minister and Ahmad Rifai, the
ex-manager of Jordan Petroleum Refinery Company (JOPT: ).

The state security prosecutor ordered their arrest last
Wednesday pending an investigation of alleged graft, bribery and
abuse of a public post in a project to bring strategic investors
for a $1.2 billion expansion of the country’s sole refinery.

Detention of senior officials in Jordan is relatively rare
and Qudah, a longtime top economic decision-maker, is the first
ex-heavyweight minister to answer corruption charges.

Judicial sources say the issue is whether officials were
bribed to grant a consortium led by Shaheen, a billionaire, a
15-year exclusivity deal to undertake the mega project when
other bidders withdrew after the global downturn.

“We are looking into allegations of bribery and abuse of
public post by a senior official,” a senior judicial source told
Reuters on condition of anonymity.

PRECAUTIONARY STEPS

The list of names and firms whose assets – cash, real
estate, stock – have been temporarily frozen by state security
prosecutors was distributed to banks, the stock exchange and
real estate registry, judicial sources told Reuters.

“In my memory there has not been this level of injustice
levelled against a former official by such sweeping freeze of
assets of him and his close relatives,” said Ahmad Najdawi, a
prominent lawyer, defending Qudah told Reuters.

Judicial sources say the latest steps were precautionary to
ensure no assets are tampered with or secretly transferred or
liquidated before the authorities complete the legal probe.

Shaheen, one of the country’s wealthiest men and a former
confidant of the country’s top brass, had been the government’s
contractor of choice for major security projects.

The tycoon handled U.S-funded contracts to build Amman-based
training facilities for Iraqi and Palestinian security forces.

Prime Minister Samir Rifai said combating graft was a top
priority of his administration and has promised that top
officials would be held accountable.

His appointment last December heralded a wider shake up to
ward off popular disenchantment over economic contraction after
years of growth and allegations of rampant official graft.

But until the latest arrests, moves to tackle graft in
administration and state controlled companies where patronage
and nepotism is extensive in a tribally based system had been
limited to a number of minor investigations and arrests.

Investment Research

(Writing by Suleiman al-Khalidi; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)
($1 = 0.709 dinar)

Jordan freezes assets in refinery graft scandal