Iraq banking reforms uncovered fraudulent dollar transactions, says PM

We were selling $200 million or $300 million a day, says Al Sudani

Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani said fraudulent foreign money transactions must stop. AFP
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Fraudulent transactions have been revealed by banking reforms in Iraq, says Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani as the country suffers from a drop in the currency’s value.

As much as $300 million was being transferred out of the country in foreign currency transactions a day before the introduction of new regulations, he said.

Mr Al Sudani’s government has made efforts to push forward a new banking system that is linked to the international electronic transfer system known as Swift.

Since assuming office late last year, his cabinet has vowed to curb corruption. On Monday evening, he hailed “a real reform of the banking system” but denounced “falsified invoices, money going out fraudulently”, as foreign currency payments for imports.

“That is a reality,” he said on state television.

The banking reform system aims to allow transparency, curb money laundering and assist in enforcing international sanctions.

An adviser to Mr Al Sudani said that since mid-November, Iraqi banks that wanted to access dollar reserves stored in the US must make transfers using the electronic system.

The US Federal Reserve would then examine the requests and block them if it finds them suspicious.

According to the adviser, the reserve had so far rejected 80 per cent of the transfer requests over concerns of the funds' final recipients.

Before the introduction of the new regulations, “we were selling $200 million or $300 million a day”, Mr Al Sudani said.

'This must stop'

“Now, the central bank provides $30 million, $40 million, $50 million.

“What were we importing in a single day for $300 million?

“There are products that were entering [Iraq] for prices that make no sense. Clearly, the objective was to take foreign currency out of Iraq. “This must stop.”

Money may have been transported to Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region “and from there to neighbouring countries”, Mr Al Sudani said, without specifying whether he was referring to Turkey, Iran or Syria.

He said the new controls had been planned for two years, in accordance with an agreement between Iraq's central bank and US financial authorities, and deplored previous failures to put them in place.

Iraq, which is trying to move past four decades of war and unrest, is plagued by corruption.

The official exchange rate is fixed by the government at 1,470 dinars to the dollar, but the currency was trading at around 1,680 on Tuesday on unofficial markets amid dollar scarcity.

The drop has sparked protests by Iraqis worried about their purchasing power.

Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein and the new central bank governor will be among a delegation travelling to Washington on February 7 to discuss the new mechanism and the fluctuating exchange rate, Mr Al Sudani said.

Updated: February 01, 2023, 6:32 AM