October 11, 2005

Iraq issues warrants in $1 bln corruption probe

By Luke Baker

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq has issued arrest warrants for the
former defense minister and two dozen other officials in
connection with the alleged misappropriation of more than $1
billion from government coffers, investigators said on Tuesday.

Judge Radhi al-Radhi, the head of the Commission on Public
Integrity charged with investigating government corruption,
told Reuters the warrants were issued several days ago by
prosecutors from Iraq's criminal court. Officials from the
criminal court were not immediately available for comment.

Ali al-Shaboot, a spokesman for the Commission on Public
Integrity, said a total of 23 warrants had been issued, with
the most high-profile for former defense minister Hazim

During Shaalan's tenure, the Defense Ministry is alleged to
have spent about $1.3 billion on military equipment, most of
which was inappropriate, out of date and bought from
intermediaries rather than suppliers in contravention of the

Shaalan, who is currently in London and also spends time in
Jordan, has denied any wrongdoing.

At least three other former ministers in the interim
government headed by Iyad Allawi, which served from June last
year until April this year, are also being sought.

The remainder of the warrants are for lower level ministry
employees and intermediaries linked to deals, officials said.

Laith Kubba, chief spokesman for the current government,
said there was no suggestion as far as he knew that Allawi was
implicated in any of the cases being investigated.


Judge Radhi told Reuters last month the investigation into
the misappropriation of funds at the Defense Ministry was a
case of "huge theft" and said he expected half a dozen
officials from the ministry eventually to be brought to

However, he said on Tuesday that prosecutors had failed to
deliver the warrant to Shaalan as he was not in Iraq, and said
a request had been made to Interpol, the international police
organization, to deliver the warrant.

Officials at Interpol said they had not received any
request from Iraq so far, but said it could sometimes take 24
hours or longer for requests to filter through their system.

Speaking to Arabiya television from London on Tuesday,
Shaalan denied any wrongdoing and described the warrants as
part of a witch hunt for members of the former government.

"It's part of a planned series," he told the Dubai-based
Arabic channel. "They are trying to kill these personalities
politically, but the Iraqi people are the smartest in the
region and know exactly the game that is going on."

As a member of parliament, Shaalan currently has immunity
from prosecution. The de-Baathification commission, a body that
seeks to rid former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party
from public office, is seeking to have his immunity revoked.

Asked by Arabiya if it might be revoked, Shaalan replied:
"In Iraqi these days, anything can happen."

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny and Hiba Moussa)