Abadi: Iraqi government is 'holding' Qatari ransom money
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said his government is holding the hundreds of millions of dollars involved in a ransom deal between Qatar and a Shia militia.
Qatari negotiators brought the ransom money to Baghdad in return for the freedom of 24 Qataris and two Saudis kidnapped by an Iraqi militia in southern Iraq late 2015 during a hunting trip.
After long negotiations - and complicated arrangements involving rebel and regime forces in Syria - the men flew back to the Gulf on Friday. Yet questions remained about the whereabouts of the ransom money.
Abadi told a news conference that Iraqi authorities seized the cash - which anounted to hundreds of millions of dollars - and was angered that Baghdad was not consulted on this issue.
"The Qatari government sent its envoy to Iraq and asked to bring a private plane," Abadi said.
"We were surprised that there were big bags, so we seized them and they contained hundreds of millions of dollars. This money was brought in without the approval of the Iraqi government. We have a central bank and a judiciary."
He said the Iraqi government would follow correct legal protocal in regards to the cash.
"Hundreds of millions to armed groups? Is this acceptable?"
Abadi did not mention which group was owed the money and Iraqi officials have remained silent on the deal.
It is believed that Shia militia Iraqi Hizballah captured the hunters, and they are said to be backed by Iran.
The release of the kidnapped men - which is said to have included Qatari royals - was also related to a deal between Doha and Tehran which saw a population transfer between beseiged rebel and regime contolled towns in Syrian.
Sources told AFP that the so-called evacuation deal and ransom money also included prisoner exchanges.
Qatar is believed to be backing Idlib-based rebel groups in the Syria war.
Iran is supporting Bashar al-Assad's regime through Revolutionary Guard advisers and recruiting thousands of Shia militants who have poured into Syria from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.