Iraq denies 'political targeting' of those accused over 'heist of century'

Ex-finance minister and other former top officials accused of playing part in looting of $2.5 billion in state funds

Iraq's Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani begins an official visit to Syria where he will discuss counter-terrorism and trade with President Bashar Al Assad.

Among other topics, Iraq's Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani will discuss fighting drugs trafficking mainly Captagon from Syria. Photo: Iraqi Prime Minister Media Office
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Iraq’s government denied on Tuesday that it had politically targeted those accused of being involved in the “heist of the century” case.

A government official also told The National that the accused men were fully aware of the charges against them.

The comments came after former finance minister Ali Allawi, named as one of four men in the case surrounding the looting of $2.5 billion of state funds, told The National he did not know the exact details of charges brought against him.

Mr Allawi last week accused the government of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani of attempting to “deflect every issue such as corruption, mismanagement and negligence” on to the government of former prime minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi.

He stepped down from the position of deputy prime minister as well as minister of finance last August. A few months later he was accused of enabling the theft of the $2.5 billion.

“With regard to the claim that what is happening is a political targeting of the former government or its people, this is not true. There [is] no political or personal targeting this case,” a government official told The National.

“Arrest warrants have been issued for the accused according to the evidence presented to the court,” said the official, who did not want to be named.

Last week, an Interpol red notice request was issued from Baghdad to arrest high-ranking former politicians including Mr Allawi. Interpol said every request would be assessed on merit and that the request did not represent “an international arrest warrant”.

“The Integrity Commission announced the red notice and announced the names of those included, and the notice will make its way to reach the accused through diplomatic channels in accordance with the law,” said the official.

The government official said the “defendants know that they are wanted in this case, and arrest warrants were issued by the Iraqi judiciary.”

The defendants have the right to appear before the court and can have the charges against them dismissed according to the law, said the official.

Mr Allawi denied involvement in a case that has shocked the Iraqi public and sparked outrage at the political elite.

“The whole thing to me is outrageous,” he said last week, in an interview from his home in London.

“I was accused without knowing any of the details of the accusations,” he said.

Iraq's judiciary has often been criticised for being politically influenced, with senior members and chief justices – including current chief justice Faiq Zaidan – accused of being loyalists of leading parties.

“It's not uncommon that people are charged without being made aware of the charges. That doesn't mean that that is proper procedure, but it's certainly not unheard of,” Zaid Al Ali, Iraqi constitutional scholar and lawyer, said.

The head of the country's Integrity Commission, Judge Haider Hanoun, was dismissed from his post by the judicial council in 2016 for corruption charges.

Mr Hanoun, who ran for election in 2018 as an ally of Hadi Al Amiri, the head of the Iran-backed Badr Organisation, originally issued Iraq's Interpol red notice request.

The heist is seen as one of the worst abuses of public funds in Iraq, which ranks 157th out of 180 countries on the global Corruption Perceptions Index.

The Iraqi government says it has recovered $125 million of the funds through the seizure of assets belonging to those mentioned in the case.

Updated: August 16, 2023, 5:19 AM