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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Iraqi minister who fled corruption charges snared

Abdel Falah Al Sudani to face Baghdad court after Interpol detention in Lebanon

Forner Iraqi trade minister Abdel Falah Al Sudani (L) and Britain's Business Minister Peter Mandelson during a press conference in Baghdad on April 06, 2009. Ali Al Saadi/AFP
Forner Iraqi trade minister Abdel Falah Al Sudani (L) and Britain's Business Minister Peter Mandelson during a press conference in Baghdad on April 06, 2009. Ali Al Saadi/AFP

A former Iraqi minister who was detained after trying to flee the country nine years ago, only to later escape, is back in Baghdad and facing trial for corruption.

Abdel Falah Al Sudani, a member of then prime minister Nouri Al Maliki's cabinet, was sentenced in absentia to seven years in prison in 2012.

Now 70 years old, Mr Al Sudani caused deep embarrassment when in 2009 he attempted to leave Iraq. But his plane was turned around by air traffic controllers before he reached Dubai.

Mr Al Maliki's government at the time was trying to reassure foreign investors that corruption was being tackled.

As Iraq's trade minister in 2009 Mr Al Sudani was questioned over his role in administering a rationing system first introduced as part of the UN's oil-for-food programme in the 1990s.

He was accused of importing expired commodities, sugar, and procuring illegal contracts as well as failing to fight corruption in his ministry.

After being taken into custody in Baghdad, following the air fiasco, he was released on bail of $43,000 (158,000 AED) and managed to flee.

But having evaded authorities he finally was returned to Baghdad on Thursday from Beirut after Interpol captured him in Lebanon last September.

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It comes as Iraq's current prime minister, Haider Al Abadi, is urging a crackdown on corruption as the country is steeped in a series of high-profile investigations into misuse of public funds by politicians and businessmen.

The move follows Mr Al Abadi's meeting on Thursday with Interpol's secretary general, Juergen Stock, at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos. Mr Al Sudani is due in court on Sunday.

Iraq's commission of public integrity welcomed what it called "years of efforts which led to Sudani's extradition" following liaison with Interpol and Britain over fraud involving overpriced imports.

Mr Al Sudani also holds citizenship of Britain where he studied. He served as trade minister from 2006 to 2009, following the US-led invasion which toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

Iraq was ranked 166 out of 176 nations in Transparency International's Corruption Index for 2017, which said the country continued to score among the worst in the world on corruption and governance indicators.

But under an amnesty law, Iraqi officials can escape jail terms if they pay sums which have allegedly been pilfered from public coffers.