The X Files of Corrupt Jordan: Characters, Charges and Cases
While Jordan's 'corruption' files have been on the radar now arguably since the 1980's, the renewed interest has no-doubt had something to do with the ever-threatening Arab Spring that Jordan has coyly kept at bay. To date, Jordan's interplay with the Arab uprisings could be described as paying lip service to the Arab revolution fever, (with a steady share of protesting and pro-reform activism to show for its pains) but not really engaging it as seriously as neighbors have. Jordan has still not gone that extra revolutionary mile to insist on 'change'.
Still, Jordan has more than nodded conspiratorially to the Arab Spring, and just this week, in light of the cacophony created by the corruption crackdown as it cracks its whip into February, the media directly took issue with Jordan's hot-cold Arab Spring: asking questions of Jordan's prevarication- to spring or not to spring?
What is the significance of the corruption crackdown in Jordan?
Given the modesty of resources and means in the Kingdom, it is not a big leap to imagine that Jordanians might be a little impatient with rampant corruption and wasted public funds. The country's corruption issue apparently includes a substantial hundreds of millions of dollars from the late Saddam Hussein that have been swallowed into the abyss of missing funds. Money squandered, therefore, in this context of have-not prevalence, could be the powder keg that sparks an angry fire in the more mellow, easily doused, Kingdom.
Jordan's corruption overhaul came close to meaning business this fortnight with the arrest of ex Chief of Jordan's intelligent services (mukhabarat) Muhammad al-Dahabi. He was accused of money-laundering and embezzling public funds. This brings to mind another former head of Jordan's General Intelligence Department, Samih al- Battikhi, also involved in money irregulariites which in his case led to the collapse of a bank. Found guilty of corruption, he was sentenced to two years in prison, 'but reportedly spent them in a villa in the resort city of Aqaba.'
The renewed drive to capture a whole ring of (independent cases) current suspected corrupt officials, started in December, 2011, when parliament set its sights upon leading political and business figures. This was one answer to opposition reform movements' pressure to address the nation's corruption stench. Today, with each arrest comes a considerable to-do that sends ripples of alarm in the country's 'reading' of its status in Arab revolution terms. The net has widened in the last couple of months to include the investigation of several leading businessmen and a former mayor of Amman. The Maani ex-Mayor case served to placate the crackdown on corruption, as well as feeding the twin aim for this 'revolution'- to instigate reform.
The recent arrest of Secret Police ex Chief was significant because of the known mukhabarat links and influence in the local media. The difference this time from previous anti-corruption campaigns was in the decisive charges, and the arrest of such an influential political figure. This Jordanian media - so plugged into political parties- has not emerged unscathed. Journalists have been allegedly taking bribes from the secret service, which plays an active role in the country’s politics. 51 high-ranking journalists or so have been swept up in the corruption scandal with former intelligence head, al-Dahabi, with only a portion of their identities revealed by first name initial only and the sum accused of receiving.
Jordan has seen its share of corrupton cases during the last 10 years, in both the poltical and economic arena. Some are more 'established' or even closed case-status than others. However it should be noted that, by the same token, a lot remains in the realms rumor and murmur (as anyone that is familiar with internal matters in the Kingdom will appreciate). Speculation and insinuation surround the newer cases, and while nothing is yet corroborrated by official charges, there is a palpable public interest- speared by both local media and parliamentary figures, pressing to open new files so that fresh and formal allegations can be made.
Cases that have been doing the rounds for years now include that of Khalid Shaheen and his involvement in the Jordanian petrolium refinery, as well as the twice-former PM Marouf Bakhit's 'Casino' role. He allegedly signed an agreement with a British company (owned by a British investor of Kurdish descent) to license a casino in the Dead Sea area. This project was halted in time to prevent Jordan from the big-spend that reached a purported 1.4 billion dollars. This unverified sum is fuelling public concern, spilling into anger, at the shameless greed that may have been abusing their less than modest Kingdom.
Anti corruption investigations in Jorodan are no straightforward procedure. They are instead steeped in ambiguities, stop-starts and retractions that leaves cases getting buried or lost, not least because committees appointed to investigate corruption in the parliament were called off lately. Such cases of suspected corruption are ordinarily investigated by House committees to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), but these were dissolved, voted off their task of investigating corruption.
Some characters of import in the country seemingly defy or remain immune to prosecution, down to their tribal affiliation and attending influence, some people contend. But HM King Abdullah II has said he will do whatever it takes to clean out corruption, though he has his work cut out for him to combat this 'pervasive phenomenon'.
A handful of men suspected also of private sector embezzlement were recenty shoved about by police. Their names are setting tongues wagging with speculation on their charges of corruption. Web-chatter is alive with intrigue. Figures from parliament and the media are pushing these personalities' alleged corruption cases onto the public agenda.
Altogether, a question mark hangs over the anti-corruption investigations in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Where will this drama-sizzling, anti-corruption campaign lead Jordan, but up the garden path, or on a wild goose chase? Still HM King Abdullah II is emphatic when it comes to pursuing the corrupt. No body is above the law, is one of his famous mottos.
Where do the corrupt businessmen and fallen public servants go?
To prison of course, but their's is an elitest detention facility for this breed of un-common thief.
A separate issue
Beyond the corruption probe, and the country's twin aims of combatting corruption and causing reform, there are additional issues that might set off those Arab Spring detectors. Dissent of a more insidious nature than the general pro-reform movement is afoot. Former members of the monarchy's establishment have even joined the ranks of some very much maverick movements. Republican murmurs and manifestos challenging the monarchy are out in the open, even if not a cry that musters much momentum or people-support.
But staying with the corruption files, what follows, in a picture panel or prison line-up in a fashion, is a round-up of people culled so far with their charges (some still unclear or yet to be verified) and cases.