Embezzlement of $1 billion in arms deal: Iraq hunts top defence officials

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Embezzlement of $1 billion in arms deal: Iraq hunts top defence officials
* Issues arrest warrants for 23 officials including former minister

BAGHDAD: Iraq has issued arrest warrants for two dozen people, including former defence minister Hazem al-Shaalan, over the suspected embezzlement of more than one billion dollars earmarked for weapons purchases, the country’s top anti-corruption official said Tuesday.

“We have issued arrest warrants for 23 top-ranking defence ministry officials including the former minister,” judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, the Iraqi commissioner on public integrity, told AFP.

Finance Minister Ali Allawi claimed last month that one billion dollars had been plundered from defence ministry coffers during the US-backed government of former prime minister Iyad Allawi.

Investigators believe the money was siphoned abroad in cash and used to fund purchases of shoddy and outdated military equipment, dealings which the finance minister told a British newspaper had seriously curtailed efforts to crush the insurgency raging in Iraq.

“It is nearly 100 per cent of the ministry’s procurement budget that has gone AWOL (absent without leave),” Ali Allawi was quoted as saying in the Independent newspaper. Radhi said another three top former ministry officials had been arrested, but declined to give further information.

Shaalan himself, who Radhi said was now believed to be London, has rejected the accusations against him as “lies”.

Radhi said the Iraqi authorities were working with international police to seek the arrest of many of the wanted suspects belived to be abroad. “If they are outside Iraq it should be Interpol who brings them back,” he said.

Radhi denied his anti-corruption campaign was politically motivated, saying investigations were also on-going into the current Shia-dominated government which replaced Allawi’s administration after January’s landmark elections.

He said probes were also underway into activities of the labour, housing, transport and oil ministries. Finance minister Allawi has said that between 500-600 million dollars has allegedly disappeared from various ministries.

“There are so many cases we have in so many ministries,” Radhi said. “We are not political; we are technocrats and our role is to chase the corruption and bring the guilty to justice.” Allawi, who headed an interim goverment which took office after the US occupation handed power over to the Iraqis, heads the Iraqi List which has 40 seats in the new parliament.

He has said he plans to form a broad-based secular coalition to fight the next elections due to take place in December after the national referendum on Saturday on the country’s post-Saddam Hussein constitution. afp


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