Former intelligence chief jailed in Jordan

Mohammed al-Dahabi, a former head of Jordanian intelligence, has been sentenced to 13 years in jail for "embezzling public funds, money laundering and abuse of public office". 

He has also been fined $30 million and ordered to return the $34 million he is said to have laundered and embezzled while in office from 2005 to 2008.

The BBC says he was arrested after the Central Bank of Jordan became suspicious [not surprisingly!] of the large transactions going through his account.

The severity of the sentence seems to have surprised Dahabi's lawyers who, according to the Jordan Times, were expecting him to get two years in jail.

Dahabi was reportedly accused of taking money from wealthy Iraqi businessmen to engage in money laundering activities and also helping them to obtain Jordanian nationality in return for bribes.

It is unlikely that Dahabi could have carried out these activities without others being involved, or at least knowing what was happening and keeping quiet.

Also, corruption is so widespread in Jordan that Dahabi is unlikely to have been prosecuted simply because his criminality was uncovered: there were probably other factors at work too.

One theory, discussed by Nisreen el-Shamayleh, al-Jazeera's correspondent in Jordan, is that the government needed a scapegoat:

"The government has been trying hard to show it is serious about fighting corruption. Jordanian protesters believe sweeping economic and political reforms cannot be achieved without a brutal war on corruption.

"By punishing Dahabi and others, the government feels it will calm the nerves of protesters and stop accusing the authorities of overlooking and even condoning corruption by its officials ...

"Critics argue that Dahabi has been singled out and set up as a political scapegoat. The verdict settles scores between Dahabi and the leadership on the one hand, and placates an angry public calling for an end to corruption on the other. The result: two birds hit by one stone.

"Nonetheless, both the trial and the verdict are indeed significant. Dahabi is only the second former intelligence chief to be tried and convicted of corruption after Sameeh Battikhi, who received a five year prison sentence, which he spent under house arrest in his Aqaba home."

Another possibility, according to the Impatient Bedouin blog, is that Dahabi was exposed because of what he knew about others:

"As intelligence chief, he may also have been in a position to know about the actions of other corrupt officials, and might have at some point disclosed information about them. In a political environment that is changing rapidly, such a worry would likely have crossed the minds of those who arranged his downfall."

Whatever the reasons for Dahabi's prosecution, while Jordanians are said to have welcomed the tough sentence there is still a belief that it leaves a web of high-level corruption largely intact. The underlying problem here is a lack of effective mechanisms for holding officials to account.

The Impatient Bedouin notes that a new Jordanian law to tackle "illicit fortunes" is being prepared for submission to the next parliament. But whether that will change much remains to be seen:

"With much of the opposition boycotting the January 23 election the next parliament is likely to be dominated (like the previous one) by supporters and allies of the king ...

"The justice minister tasked with overseeing the anti-corruption department will owe his position to a prime minister allied with the king, chosen by a parliament that much of the public considers illegitimate. 

"Until the fundamentally undemocratic elements of the way Jordan is governed are changed such steps will represent nothing more than cosmetic measures ..."

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 12 November 2012.