Iraq PM Al Sudani says stolen state funds must ‘return’

New government plans to curb corruption, making it a top priority

Iraq Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani has vowed to fight corruption. AP
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Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani on Monday said stolen state funds must be ‘returned’ as his office began a crackdown to curb corruption.

Since assuming office a few weeks ago, Mr Al Sudani has called for reforms and pledged to fight endemic corruption. It is a promise heard from every prime minister after taking the position. However, little has been achieved.

Over the years, corruption in the Iraqi system has increased poverty and unemployment while transferring billions of dollars of public money into the pockets of top officials.

The country is now ranked 157th out of 180 countries on a global corruption index, among the most corrupt states in the world, according to Transparency International.

“Stolen funds must be returned, and there will be no credibility from anti-corruption efforts unless we prove to the Iraqi citizens the possibility of recovering and protecting these funds,” Mr Al Sudani said.

A political storm was created last month after Iraq's judiciary said it has traced and seized some of the $2.5 billion stolen from state funds, an amount lost after an office in the finance ministry issued money to fake companies.

The scandal came to light when former oil minister Ihsan Abdul Jabbar ordered an investigation when he was acting finance minister.

Documents related to the investigation showed the amount was stolen from the General Tax Authority's trust account held by a branch of the Rafidain Bank.

The money was fraudulently paid to five companies by the General Commission of Taxes, which is linked to the finance ministry.

Between September 9, 2021, and August 11, 2022, 247 cheques were made to transfer the money from the commission's account.

This latest case is one of the biggest corruption scandals in Iraq since 2003.

In 2005, authorities issued arrest warrants for former defence minister Hazim Al Shaalan and more than 10 officials in a massive fraud case involving more than $1 billion.

Updated: November 07, 2022, 3:01 PM