x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Iraqi ex-minister tries to flee to UAE

Iraq's former trade minister Abdel Falah al-Sudani has been arrested after trying to flee the country in the wake of a graft scandal.

Iraqi trade minister Abdel Falah al-Sudani and Britain's business minister Peter Mandelson listen to reporters during a press conference in Baghdad on April 6 2009.
Iraqi trade minister Abdel Falah al-Sudani and Britain's business minister Peter Mandelson listen to reporters during a press conference in Baghdad on April 6 2009.

Iraq's former trade minister Abdel Falah al-Sudani was arrested today after trying to flee the country in the wake of a graft scandal. The plane he was flying on, heading for the UAE, was ordered back to Baghdad airport so he could be arrested, said Sabah al-Saedi, the head of the Iraqi parliament's corruption and integrity commission. "The minister was trying to escape from justice" said Mr Saedi. "After some phone calls were made to judicial authorities and the airport, the aeroplane was turned back and the minister arrested," he added.

The prime minister Nuri al-Maliki's office on Monday announced that Mr Sudani had resigned amid allegations of corruption and embezzlement linked to the nation's food assistance programme. "An arrest warrant was issued against the minister under the charge of corruption," said Mr Saedi. "He is the main person responsible for corruption in the ministry." Mr Sudani, a member of Maliki's Shiite Dawa faction, had already been questioned by parliament over claims relating to imports for Iraq's food rationing programme.

Mr al-Maliki on Wednesday vowed to root out graft in the Iraqi government, after Mr Sudani quit. "We will institute reforms ... and we will search for the truth," Mr Maliki told reporters after talks in Baghdad with senior trade ministry officials. "We will not stand with arms folded in the face of corruption. We will pursue those who are corrupt and bring them before the courts," Mr Maliki said, while placing the ministry under his authority.

Mr Sudani was accused of importing expired commodities, sugar, and procuring illegal contracts as well as failing to fight corruption in his ministry. Mr Maliki stressed on Wednesday he was immediately instituting measures to fight graft in Iraq. "We will recruit new executives to replace those who are not qualified and we urge those in charge of purchases to sign contracts with large global companies directly rather than through intermediaries," the premier said.

The commission on public integrity, tasked with fighting corruption in Iraq, announced on Wednesday that 997 officials are being investigated for alleged graft, including 53 people ranked director general or higher. It said 120 Iraqis were arrested for corruption in April and May. Watchdog group Transparency International ranked Iraq in 2008 as the world's third-most corrupt country behind Somalia and Myanmar.

The trade ministry operates a nearly six-billion dollar annual budget that provides a monthly public food distribution programme for Iraqis. It also manages the import of grain, seeds and construction materials. Iraq's food rationing system was established in 1995 as part of the United Nations oil-for-food programme following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The public distribution programme has been plagued by mismanagement and corruption since the 2003 US-led invasion.

* AFP