THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Monday 16 July 2012
Last Update 16 July 2012 6:26 pm
RAMALLAH, West Bank: A senior Palestinian official suspected of embezzling public funds fell to his death from the third-floor kitchen window of a West Bank security compound where he was being interrogated, officials said yesterday.
The official investigating the incident said Osama Mansour jumped and that there is security camera footage to prove it. Mansour’s family and a leading human rights activist called for an autopsy in the presence of an independent doctor.
Mansour’s job was to track Palestinians who sold land to Israelis, and the case is training a spotlight on the murky world of secret West Bank land deals. Israeli settlers often try to buy Palestinian-owned land in the West Bank and east Jerusalem to strengthen their hold on occupied territories the Palestinians want for their state.
Those convicted of selling land to Israelis face the death penalty, though executions in such cases have not been carried out. Palestinian society views such acts as treason because it weakens their quest for an independent state in the occupied lands.
Mansour , who worked in the attorney general’s office, was given large sums by the Palestinian Authority to buy back land sold to Israelis whenever possible, said Abdel-Latif Al-Aidi, an official leading the investigation into Mansour’s death.
More than three weeks ago, Mansour was arrested on suspicion he pocketed some of that money by claiming he had successfully bought back property when he had not.
Mansour was being held in a regular room and not in a cell at the Military Intelligence building because he was receiving special treatment as a former member of the security forces, said Al-Aidi, head of the military judicial system in the West Bank.
On Sunday, Mansour was told his case would be referred to a special court for corruption cases, Al-Aidi said.
“He took a shower, shaved and smoked a cigarette,” Al-Aidi said. Mansour told the guards he wanted a drink and was told to go to the kitchen for a glass of water, the investigator said, adding that the detainee was not handcuffed or accompanied by a guard.
“He went to the kitchen, opened the window and jumped,” Al-Aidi said. He said a security camera captured the fatal fall, and that the footage would be made public.
Al-Aidi said he did not know how much money Mansour was suspected of embezzling.
Mansour’s nephew, Ameed Masri, said the family is withholding comment until an autopsy has been performed.
Shahwan Jabareen of the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq said such an autopsy must be done in the presence of an independent doctor. “Usually, when someone dies in custody, that raises our suspicions, but we are waiting for the autopsy,” he said.
Land deals between Palestinians and settler groups in the West Bank and east Jerusalem are usually done in secret because of the danger to the lives of the Palestinians involved.
Scams are commonplace. Sometimes, Palestinians sell land they don’t own, or take the money without turning over the property. Other times, settlers falsely claim they’ve purchased Palestinian land and produce fraudulent documents. After successful sales, Palestinians often relocate abroad for fear of possible vigilante attacks against them.
Al-Aidi said that over the past decade, Mansour was assigned to track down such deals. In case involving forgeries, he was to initiate legal action. If a sale was legitimate, he was to try to buy back the land.
Currently, 141 Palestinians are being held in West Bank prisons for selling land to Israelis, court officials said.
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