Alwaght- The Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani who since the day one of his premiership vowed to improve the economic conditions has taken aim at the conclusion of corruption cases of the previous government as a starting point, a move proving controversial.
Issuing a statement on the steps taken, the Iraqi Federal Transparency Committee on Saturday said that following emergence of new pieces of evidence about complicity of another number of ex-PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi government’s officials in embezzlement of the country’s tax funds, arrest warrants were issued to four more officials. The arrest and investigation target former Finance Minister Ali Abdulamir Alawi, head of the PM’s office Raed Juhi, the PM’s Political Advisor Mashrigh Abbas, and the PM’s personal secretary Ahmad Nejati. Also, their assets were seized by the judiciary, resources familiar with the warrant said.
These people are accused of involvement in the embezzlement of $2.5 billion, a corruption case known in Iraq as “theft of the century ”. This huge amount was stolen from the tax funds, a scandal that was revealed by Iraqi officials a few months ago. The payments were made through 247 checks between September 2021 and August 2022 from the branch of the state-owned Al-Rafdain Bank located inside Iraq’s General Commission for Taxes. The account contained billions of dollars in corporate deposits that were supposed to be returned to them after updating income tax audits and making deductions. It is said that these companies made fraudulent financial refunds without paying taxes. The investigation department of the Federal Transparency Committee, which handles corruption and bribery cases in government institutions, currently focuses on the theft of the century.
Al-Sudani’s resolve to fight corruption
The arrest of previous cabinet officials comes while al-Sudani, in a recent meeting with the Transparency International Organization officials, emphasized his government’s determination to fight corruption and stressed it was one of his top priorities. In the first days of his work, the PM ordered the formation of the Supreme Anti-Corruption Authority and its support group to show that he is serious about this matter. Having in mind that in the Corruption Perception Index of the International Transparency Organization, Iraq ranks 157 out of 180, the Iraqi government has a lot to do in order to improve the country’s position in the world, and by addressing the theft of the century case, great steps have been taken towards this aim.
Al-Sudani, who was installed by the Shiite Coordination Framework (SCF), has the backing of this powerful alliance in advancing his anti-occupation agenda. The Shiites have the majority of the parliament and they also want to deal with the corruption cases of al-Kadhimi government so that they can patch things up and gain the public support. They know that the continuation of this crisis can negatively affect the popular turnout in the early election, scheduled for later this year. Actually, people would no longer buy any justification from the politicians for messy conditions.
Al-Kadhimi government’s oil and financial corruption cases
In addition to the theft of the century, al-Kadhimi government’s officials are accused of economic fraud cases during their terms. Fatah alliance recently revealed that the high-ranking officials of al-Kadhimi government were involved in smuggling oil from Basra province in the south to abroad and earning millions of dollars. In a speech last month, the PM stated that in the previous government between $30-$50 million of currency was smuggled abroad every day. Regarding the destination of currency smuggling from Iraq, he said that proving the fraud or smuggling was a legal matter and required necessary measures, but there are speculations that currency was transferred to the Kurdistan region and from there to the neighboring countries, which should be returned. Critics and the media argue that the multi-billion dollar incomes that have been earned from this way by the corrupts could have been spent on solving the critical living conditions of the citizens and on depovertization.
Given the huge corruption cases under al-Kadhimi, al-Sudani and the political factions in the parliament are trying to check their repeat in the future. Iraq is not in appropriate economic conditions due to years of insecurity deriving from rise of ISIS and seizure of its territories by the terrorist group, political stalemate, and economic crisis, and people expect al-Sudani administration to settle at least part of these problems.
Al-Kadhimi’s reaction to arrest of his government men
Despite the fact that the charges against former officials have been proven, Al-Kadhimi is infuriated by arrest of figures close to him. Releasing a statement, his office said that such a probe by some political parties lacked the acceptable limits of independence and demonstrated a scandalous political method attacking and purging anyone worked with the previous government, and dismissal of hundreds of employees in the past few weeks was a clear example of such an approach. The statement further said that Al-Kadhimi’s administration since the beginning of its work called for audit of the General Commission of Taxes for clarification of various aspects of the case. The government of al-Kadhimi, the statement held, handed over some suspects to the judiciary and bravely publicized the details of the case. It is not hidden to anybody that the corruption case dated back to years before al-Kadhimi government, added the statement.
Al-Kadhimi said that these people were picked selectively and the proceeding targeted people who fulfilled their legal duties, or had no links to these cases, and this showed political motivations behind the case.
The ex-pm seeks to clear himself of the financial fraud and shift the blame on others, but the reality is that the biggest embezzlement in Iraq’s history took place in the last year of his government and documents blame his government. He is going to great lengths to get rid of the political quagmire he is in. Two weeks ago, he visited Iran for help from Tehran. Still, political factions blame him for a large portion of the crises of the past three years and his failure to find a solution to them in collusion with the US.
Now and with arrest of his administration officials, he is worried about his conviction in the embezzlement case. If convicted, he loses the role in Iraq’s political future. He has been preparing himself for the early elections to retake his post, but he would find the road back to premiership difficult and even impossible given the scandal hitting him and his orbit.
In addition to corruption, he is accused of involvement in the US assassination of top anti-terror commanders, Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani and Iraq’s Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. If he is found guilty in this case, not only he would lose his way back to power, but also graver consequences would await him.
Al-Sudani and the SCF seek to alleviate the economic crisis and rebuild the lost trust in the statesmen by concluding the corruption cases of the previous government and by returning the stolen funds to the government treasury. To realize this aim, the government must design economic strategies and anti-corruption fight can prove helpful in this regard.