Amman – Osama Al-Rantissi
Jordanian businessman Sabih Al-Masri has told a criminal court of how he backed plans to build a casino near the Dead Sea. Al-Masri says he spoke to Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit back in 2007 about the controversial proposals. “I’m one of the people who encouraged building casinos near the Dead Sea to attract tourists to Jordan. Although we invested millions in the Dead Sea, tourists don’t find entertaining places near it, plus, thousands of citizens will work in the casino,” he said.
In his testimony on Sunday, Al-Masri said Bakhit was convinced that building a casino on the Dead Sea will boost tourism. “I know that Jericho casino is earning 100 million Dollars and is employing 2000 people,” he added.
The businessman explained how several people approached him in the belief that he was building a casino in Aqaba, but he referred them to the minister of tourism Osama Al-Dabbas. He says that Al-Dabbas was keen to give him a casino licence, but he turned it down twice. The second refusal came after Austrian company “Austira” applied for their licence. “Dabbas consulted me about the casino and I told him that the Austrian company offered a 15-20% government share, while the Egyptian government charges 50% in return of these projects. I advised him to ask the Austrians for the same percentage.”
Al-Masri testifies that he also spoke to Wafa Al-Dajani, who introduced him to Shawan Al-Mulla in the office of Samir Kawar. Al-Mulla was keen to share the casino project with him, but Al-Masri refused again. “Al-Mulla said that people from Canada are currently negotiating with the minister of tourism about the casino. I found out later that the government has granted Al-Mulla the licence,” he added.
Al-Masri said there is no financial relationship between him and Al-Mulla, except for him being a partner of one of his relatives who owns a communication company in Iraq. “I asked him whether he paid money to obtain the licence, and he said: "Damn the day I came to that country."
After the resignation of Bakhit’s government, Al-Masri says he was contacted by Prime Minister Nadir Azzahabi who wanted to meet him and discuss the casino. “I talked to him about the subject and he told me that the cancellation of the agreement will cost the government 500 million dollars, as Ayman Oudi told him.”