The plot thickens over the Iraqi bank heist
Scleared by a recently appeared in The Economistsister publication, 1843, from stealing $2.5bn of state funds, Iraqi authorities have asked America, Britain and Interpol to help arrest and extradite suspects who have sought asylum abroad over. Four men are wanted in the previous government in Iraq under Mustafa al-Kadhimi. An investigation was launched by his government last year, but then the case was largely abandoned, despite promises of action by Muhammad al-Sudani, who succeeded him as prime minister.
Responsibility for further action appears to have been deferred to Western and Middle Eastern governments. The four accused – a former finance minister, intelligence chief, senior adviser and private secretary to Mr Kadhimi – have lived in Dubai, London and Washington. They vehemently deny the allegations, which they say are politically motivated.
Iraqi courts have seized the property of Iraqi Ehsan Abdeljabbar, another former finance minister, who launched the investigation; he is also abroad. A businessman also at the center of the scandal, Nur Zuheir, was released on bail in November; he also travels abroad. Mr. Abdeljabbar and Mr. Zuheir strongly deny any wrongdoing.
Mr. Kadhimi’s allies say this is a witch hunt by Mr. Sudani to divert attention from powerful Iraqis who are friendly to the current regime who are also under suspicion. They say Shia Islamist militia leaders who support Mr Sudani are working with Mr Zuheir to raise money and that the anti-corruption watchdog commissioned by Mr Sudani is linked to Shia militia.
Corruption has been a staple of Iraqi politics since the Americans overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003, but a major tax scam was reported in 1843 showing Iraq for the first time in detail how state coffers were looted. Politicians across the ethnic and sectarian spectrum have come together to strip the squirrel of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of oil and tax revenue.
Efforts to improve transparency by digitizing government finances and hiring international auditors have been repeated. While Mr. Sudani says that the investigation is strongly underway, he knows that former prime ministers have been expelled by Islamist Shia groups that are responsible for dirty money. This is good news for Mr. Zuheir. “Nur will never be brought to trial,” said an observer who is monitoring the case. “There are so many key people involved, they will never give him a platform to speak.” ■
Correction (August 11): The title has been changed. The original wrongly suggested that Interpol has decided to pursue suspects in connection with a bank heist. In fact, although the Iraqi court has asked him to do so, Interpol has not confirmed that they will take any action. We apologize for the error. We have also added a line in the article to make it clearer that the four men strongly deny the allegation.