Iraq asks US and UK to extradite former officials named in $2.5bn corruption scandal

Iraq's judiciary issued arrest warrants at the beginning of March for four men, including aides to former prime minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi

An aerial view of Baghdad, Iraq July 11, 2020. Picture taken on board a helicopter. Picture taken July 11, 2020. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
Powered by automated translation

Iraq on Sunday called on the US and Britain to extradite former officials accused of helping in the theft of $2.5 billion in public funds in one of the country's worst corruption cases.

Iraq's judiciary issued arrest warrants at the beginning of March for four men, including a former finance minister and staff members of former prime minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi, who Baghdad said now all live outside the country.

Haider Hanoun, the head of the Iraqi Commission for Integrity, on Sunday called on “competent authorities in the US and the UK to co-operate in executing the arrest warrants issued against them”, without specifying where the suspects are located.

He said that Interpol had issued Red Notices against Mr Kadhimi's cabinet director and personal secretary. However, at the time of publishing, Interpol‘s public list of red notices did not include any of the four officials mentioned by Mr Hanon.

Anti-corruption efforts in Iraq are said by experts to be highly politicised. Mr Hanoun formerly ran as a candidate in elections with the Iran-backed Fatah Coalition, although political parties across the spectrum have been accused of being behind the theft.

Another Red Notice has been issued for former finance minister Ali Allawi, “who holds British citizenship”, Mr Hanoun said. Interpol’s website which lists red notices did not include Mr Allawi at the time of publication. In a statement to The National on Monday, an Interpol spokesman said it would not comment on individual cases, but all requests for a red notice are checked for compliance with the organisation’s constitution and rules by a specialised task force.

An Interpol Red Notice is not an international arrest warrant but asks authorities to provisionally detain people pending possible extradition or other legal actions.

“We hope that they [London and Washington] will co-operate and extradite the suspects,” said the Iraqi official.

Mr Allawi, a politician and academic, resigned in August last year. When the scandal broke a few months later, he denied all responsibility.

The fourth person is the former prime minister's media adviser.

The case, which has been called “the robbery of the century”, sparked outrage in oil-rich but corruption-plagued Iraq.

At least $2.5 billion was stolen between September 2021 and August 2022 through 247 cheques that were cashed by five companies.

The money was then withdrawn in cash from the accounts of these companies, most of whose owners are on the run.

Mr Kadhimi has defended his record on fighting corruption, saying his government had uncovered the case, launched an investigation and taken legal action.

The four men are accused of “facilitating the embezzlement of sums belonging to the tax authorities”.

The country's current Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al Sudani has promised to crack down on corruption since his appointment in late October.

The UK Home Office said it was unable to state whether a request to extradite Mr Allawi had been made or not.

“It is long standing policy that we will neither confirm nor deny that an extradition request has been received or made,” a Home Office spokesperson said.

A Home Office source disclosed that no information on the process would be released until an extradition of a person had actually been ordered.

The Iraqi embassy in London was contacted for comment but has yet to respond.

Updated: August 07, 2023, 6:47 PM