Jason Kenney seeks citizenship probe of prime suspect in Palestinian embezzlement case

VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail

Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney is shown during an interview at his office in December, 2012. Mr. Kenney says he’s ordered his department to review how a prime suspect in the alleged embezzlement of millions of dollars from the Palestinian Authority acquired Canadian citizenship. (Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)

Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says he’s ordered his department to review how a prime suspect in the alleged embezzlement of millions of dollars from the Palestinian Authority acquired Canadian citizenship.

Mr. Kenney, following an unrelated announcement in Vancouver on Tuesday, referred to the case of Muhammad Rashid, a former senior aide to Yasser Arafat, founding president of the Palestinian Authority, who was also head of the authority’s public investment company. The minister told reporters that Privacy Act concerns limited his ability to comment on the matter, but added he has raised the case with his department to see whether Mr. Rashid’s citizenship was properly obtained.

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“I don’t know whether there was any fraud in this instance, but we are looking into it,” he said.

Mr. Kenney said there were some issues to be dealt with in proceeding with the review. “We’re having, quite frankly, difficulty getting the correct name and identity of this person. Suffice to say, we take fraud in our citizenship program very seriously.”

Mr. Kenney’s remarks went further than his department’s statement earlier this week, when a spokesperson told The Globe and Mail the government could not comment because of privacy laws.

Mr. Rashid has been convicted, in absentia, by a Palestinian court of embezzling $34-million.

The Globe has learned he obtained Canadian citizenship in 2003, and his ties to Canada, including his work on the board of a Canadian bioscience company, prompted Palestinian authorities to seek Ottawa’s help looking for assets. Palestinian prosecutors believe Mr. Rashid, also known as Khaled Salam, now lives in London, England, but that he may be travelling on a Canadian passport.

Mr. Kenney said he was not aware of the case until he read media reports about it.

The foreign affairs minister for the Palestinian Authority has asked John Baird, his Canadian counterpart, to help locate what the authority deems to be stolen property.

The matter is expected to come up when Mr. Baird, who is visiting the Middle East this week, meets this weekend with Palestinian officials.

Mr. Rashid was a key adviser for Mr. Arafat and chairman of the Palestinian Commercial Services Company, which made more than $700-million in investments, operating a West Bank cement monopoly and buying into businesses that ranged from Egypt’s Orascom Telecom to a New York bowling alley.

Last year, he was convicted of embezzling, money laundering and taking commissions “by which he was able to unjustifiably enrich himself,” Akram Al Khatib, deputy chairman of the Palestinian anti-corruption commission, told The Globe.

As a result, Mr. Rashid was sentenced to 15 years in prison and a $15-million fine.

In a television interview last year, Mr. Rashid denied the allegations against him.

His Canadian business links have come about through a 1999 investment by the Palestinian Authority in Bioniche Life Sciences Inc., a human and veterinary pharmaceuticals maker which has been based in London, Ont.

As a result of the investment, Mr. Rashid secured a spot on the company’s board of directors. However, concerns about the impact of the Palestinian interest in organizing new U.S. financing prompted Bioniche to buy out the Palestinian investment in 2003.

With a report from Campbell Clark in Ottawa