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Arafat Tied to Md. Bowling Alley

News Prompts Owner to Return Palestinian Investment

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 24, 2004; Page B03

The bowlers at Strike Bethesda yesterday celebrated office holiday parties, hurled red and green bowling balls at glowing neon-colored pins and watched "A Christmas Story" on overhead video screens as rock music thumped in the background.

Most were blissfully unaware that, up Interstate 95 in New York's Greenwich Village, the bowling alley's owner had found himself smack-dab in a bowling brouhaha of Middle Eastern proportions.

Strike Bethesda, billed as a unique bowling alley, caters to a number of Jewish groups and events, including hosting bar mitzvahs and Hanukah parties. (Rebecca D'angelo For The Washington Post)

A business magazine revealed Wednesday that the late Yasser Arafat's investments in U.S. companies included $1.3 million in the New York company that owns Strike Bethesda and three other bowling alleys.

Tom Shannon, chief executive of Strike Holdings LLC, announced yesterday that his privately held company was returning the $1.3 million and severing all ties with the firm that made the investment, McLean-based SilverHaze Partners.

Strike Bethesda touts itself as a "unique atmosphere" for bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs, the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony. It offers kosher catering and a "VIP room for your candle-lighting ceremony," according to Strike Bethesda's Web site. The three-year-old bowling alley, on Westbard Avenue -- a favorite among young families on rainy days and a singles hot spot on weekend nights -- has hosted events for Jewish singles groups and a Hanukah "Matzoh Bowl" party last year.

Shannon, who grew up in Washington, said some of his Jewish investors "took enormous offense" at his company's having any money linked to the Palestinian Authority. He said he didn't know about it himself until Wednesday, when he read an article in Bloomberg's Markets magazine about Arafat's U.S. holdings.

Shannon said he had believed the money came from wealthy families who invested with SilverHaze Partners. Shannon said he knew SilverHaze's managing partner, Zeid Masri, as a classmate at the University of Virginia's business school.

Shannon said Masri never told him that the money came from the Palestine Commercial Services Co. That is a West Bank-based holding company owned by the Palestinian Authority, according to the Bloomberg article. Arafat appointed his financial adviser to run the holding company, the article said.

"We don't want to be affiliated with that organization in any way," Shannon, 39, said yesterday in a phone interview. "Had we been informed they were the source of funds, we wouldn't have taken it."

Strike Bethesda bowlers said they were more dumbfounded than offended that money from the deceased Palestinian Authority leader would end up linked to a suburban Maryland bowling alley.

"Did he like to bowl?" asked Pat Lynch, 47, of Olney, who was attending an office holiday bowling party for Design Tech, a Chevy Chase engineering firm where Lynch is the office manager. "That seems kind of strange."

"I wonder if bin Laden is invested here," joked Bob Beckel, 48, of Bethesda, as he bowled with his 9-year-old daughter, MacKenzie, and 11-year-old son, Alex.

Beckel, a commentator for Fox News Channel who also teaches political science at George Washington University, claimed that news of an Arafat link was hurting his touch. He'd previously bowled a strike. Now, he'd picked up a spare.

"As much as I don't like it, I won't pull my kids out of here in protest," said Beckel, who said he is not Jewish but is a supporter of Israel. "Then I'd have to deal with them on a rainy day at home."

Masri, of SilverHaze Partners, was not available to speak with reporters yesterday, said Sarah Godwin, the firm's head of operations. In a written statement, the firm said it did nothing wrong in investing "the legitimately acquired funds of the Palestinian people."

"The Palestinian National Authority, like all governments worldwide, invests money on behalf of their people in a broad spectrum of businesses and investments," the firm's statement said. "The funds invested are audited by Standard & Poor's with the full knowledge of the United States government."

Shannon said Masri told him in a phone call Wednesday that the money came from a pension fund for Palestine Commercial Services Co., not Arafat's personal money.

It appears the investment actually struck out. Shannon said his company never paid any dividends.

Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company