Monday, June 17, 2024

Iraq seeking Interpol alerts for ex-officials over $2.5 billion graft

Iraq plans to ask Interpol to issue international alerts seeking the arrest of former senior officials including an ex-finance minister and an ex-intelligence chief over the suspected theft of more than $2.5 billion from the country's Tax Commission.

The scandal centres on suspected illegitimate cash withdrawals from a bank account belonging the Commission between 2021 and 2022 totalling around $2.5 billion, according to Iraqi officials – a staggering amount even in a country that regularly ranks among the world’s most corrupt.

Iraq’s top anti-corruption official, Integrity Commission chief Judge Haider Hanoun, announced the move to seek so-called Interpol Red Notices on Sunday.

Hanoun said the judiciary would also ask for notices to be issued for the private secretary and a political adviser to former prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

Kadhimi and former finance minister Ali Allawi have both denied involvement. The allegations of graft were revealed late last year just before a new government came to power.

Allawi resigned from Kadhimi’s government in August 2022 citing political interference in government work and graft. He has since said that he took steps to prevent theft from occurring at the Tax Commission but that his decisions were ignored by other officials.

Current Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani has stated one of his priorities is fighting the rampant corruption that pervades the Iraqi state and has led to the pilfering of untold billions of its oil wealth over the years.

Hanoun, appointed by Sudani, noted Iraq was working to extradite people involved in the theft from a number of states including the UAE, Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and also called on the US and UK “to hand over fugitive suspects.”

Hanoun added those involved in the corruption for whom he was demanding Red Notices had taken a share of no less than 100 billion Iraqi dinars ($77 million).

More than 48 people were suspected of involvement overall, he added.

Hanoun later told Reuters that a businessman who has become one of the most prominent suspects in the scandal, Nour Zuheir, had recovered around 380 billion dinars ($292 million) in stolen funds since being released on bail in November 2022.

Zuheir has publicly maintained his innocence of all charges.

Many in Iraq have questioned why the businessman has been allowed to roam free despite officials’ allegations that he played a leading role in the theft.

Zuheir’s case remained pending and a decision to re-arrest him lay with the judiciary, Hanoun continued.

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