King Abdullah II's uncle, Waleed Kurdi, has reportedly fled to England at the royal family's urging to avoid prosecution for allegedly stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the national phosphate company which he managed.
The government said it issued an international arrest warrant and ordered the central bank to freeze his assets, but Interpol said they received no such request from local authorities. Kurdi remains abroad and refuses to return unless prosecutors from the independent anti-corruption commission established by the king in 2006 drop the case. Before fleeing, he offered $700 million to settle the case out of court.
Kurdi, who was indicted at the beginning of the month on charges of corruption and mismanagement while manager of the company, one of the oldest in the country, between 2007 and 2012, reportedly left Jordan after being told to do so to avoid further embarrassment to the royal family, and with the king under pressure to take action. Sources say they had no choice but to ask him to leave after his attempt to settle the case out of court failed.
The prosecutor general's office refused to comment and said the investigation is ongoing. Officials at the central bank sources told The Media Line that Kurdi's assets in local banks are very small compared to what he is accused of stealing.
The fraud suspicions were originally brought up in 2011, but due to his connections, no action was taken at that time. Kurdi is the husband of the king's aunt, Princess Basma, sister of the late King Hussein.
The corruption affair comes as a major blow to King Abdullah's bid to contain ripples of the Arab Spring in his country, which saw the opposition join with some tribal powers to seek transparency and end corruption.
The pro-Western monarch has been struggling to ward-off criticism from conservative Jordanians and opposition groups over accusations of lavish living and reported abuse of powers.
Governments appointed by the king and recent parliaments are seen as having failed in their attempts to fight corruption. In fact, several prime ministers and cabinet ministers were implicated in similar fraud cases but were ultimately cleared.
The most senior figure to be convicted on corruption charges was Mohammad Dahabi, former chief of intelligence services, who last month was sentenced to 13-years in prison after an extensive investigation by the anti-corruption commission.
Since its establishment, the commission has been frequently neutralized by the Royal Court and successive prime ministers along with tribal-dominated parliaments.
Commission General Director Sameeh Beno, a former intelligence officer, has publicly criticized both the government and parliament for blocking any major investigations of suspected corruption.
"But no more; the commission has been granted more power," said a member of its board of directors, who asked not to be named for reasons of security.
Indeed, after sweeping street protests over the past year, the commission was granted full power to take off its gloves when it comes to fighting fraud.
"The political atmosphere has changed and the king needs to show he is serious about fighting corruption. People were tired of lip service," the commission member told The Media Line. Feeling the squeeze of the street protests, King Abdullah promised "no one will be spared from the anti-corruption drive." His uncle's case will certainly put that declaration to the test.
"If Kurdi offered so much money to settle the case against him, how much would he have actually stolen," Zaki Bani Rsheid, deputy chief of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Jordan, told The Media Line.
Among the multiple charges against Kurdi under investigation are illegal contracts with foreign transport companies, pay-offs worth of hundreds of millions of dollars to bogus brokers, and others.
In one case, he allegedly signed an exclusive deal with a maritime transportation company to ship 250,000 tons of phosphates to Turkey at higher than market prices. Kurdi himself is believed to be the owner of that foreign registered company, according to commission sources.
While Dahabi, who comes from a small family, suffered the full brunt of the anti-corruption war, opposition figures claim that others close to the monarch allegedly got away with hundreds of millions of dollars, including Kurdi, who remains at-large with most of the cash he allegedly pocketed.
"This is the tip of the iceberg. Kurdi has used his contacts with the royal family to siphon off the country's resources," said a senior source in the anti-corruption department. "He should be extradited to face justice."
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