Iraq recovers $2.6 million in stolen public funds

Officials say this is part of $2.5 billion embezzled in a cheque fraud in 2021 and 2022

Journalists arrive for a press conference by the head of the Federal Authority of Integrity in Baghdad on January 3, 2023, to announce the recovery of four billion Iraqi dinars, the equivaliant of $2. 6 million, reportedly part of the $2. 5 billion of government funds fraudulently stolen from the tax authorities.  (Photo by Sabah ARAR  /  AFP)
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Iraq's anti-corruption agency said it has recovered another $2.6 million fraudulently withdrawn from a government bank account.

But this is just a fraction of the $2.5 billion allegedly stolen from a number of state enterprises in a series of cheque transactions over the past two years.

The scandal has led to outrage in the country where many Iraqis live in poverty amid widespread corruption.

Judge Haider Hanoun, who heads the Federal Authority of Integrity, said that the suspect in this recovery is alleged to have stolen more than $11 million.

“The money that was recovered today amounted to 4 billion Iraqi dinars ($2.6 million), which is part of a total of more than 17 billion ($11 million),” Judge Hanoun, who heads the Federal Authority of Integrity, said on Tuesday.

He was speaking at a press conference in Baghdad with blocks of bank notes stacked before him.

A suspect returned stolen funds and will face trial on January 12, Mr Hanoun said. He did not name the accused.

Last year, Iraq's judiciary said it had traced and seized some of the $2.5 billion. The money is alleged to have been paid by an office in the Finance Ministry to fake companies.

It was paid through 247 cheques between September 9, 2021, and August 11, 2022, from the General Commission of Taxes account at a state-run bank, an internal investigation said.

He said Iraqi authorities expected to recover nearly $80 million “within the next two days” from the US.

Mr Hanoun claimed this had been smuggled out of the country during the time of the former government.

Suspect identified

An official in the anti-corruption agency identified the suspect as Haitham Al Juburi, a former adviser to ex-prime minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi, AFP reported.

Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani took over from Mr Al Kadhimi in October and has made regular announcements about the case as part of a pledge to fight corruption.

Arrest warrants have been issued for owners of accounts involved in the alleged embezzlement.

In November, Mr Al Sudani said Nour Zuhair Jassem, a businessman allegedly implicated in the theft, had given back part of more than $1 billion that he confessed to having received.

Released on bail, he has returned $211.6 million in several payments.

Updated: January 04, 2023, 6:56 AM