Iraqi PM announces return of millions of 'stolen' public funds

Iraqi PM announces return of millions of 'stolen' public funds
Amid wide discontent by the ordinary people, the Iraqi prime minister vows it would "recover" all public funds smuggled away from the country.
3 min read
28 November, 2022
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani speaks to press in Baghdad, Iraq on 27 November 2022. [Getty]

 Iraq's prime minister Mohammed Shia' al-Sudani late on Sunday announced the retrieval of over 180 billion Iraqi dinars from "stolen" tax funds, vowing that combating corruption is a priority for his cabinet.

The Iraqi finance ministry under former finance minister Ali Allawi in October found that 3.7 trillion Iraqi dinars (about US$2.5 billion) from the account of the general commission for taxes at state-owned Rafidain Bank had been withdrawn from the agency's account.

Sudani, in a televised speech on Sunday, said that about 182.7 billion Iraqi dinars (over US$125 million) has been recovered from Noor Zuhair Jassim, one of the main suspects in the corruption case that has been dubbed, "the theft of the century".

Sudani also said that Jassim has been released on bail as per court orders to facilitate retrieving a total amount of 1.681270 trillion Iraqi dinars, embezzled by the suspect by purchasing real estate in key areas of Baghdad, within two weeks.

He vowed that they will not "leave out anyone or any party involved" in the case and that all persons and sides involved – inside or outside the country – will be announced after the completion of related investigations. He clarified that another suspect named Hussein Kawa Abdul Qadir, fled to Erbil, the capital city of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, and has been arrested and will be transferred to the Iraqi officials in Baghdad.

Iraqi social media users on Twitter mocked the step by the Iraqi government and described it as a "drama", pointing out that the amount shown seems to be less than the real stolen amount. Others accused the government of deliberately delaying paying the public servants for over 10 days, just to portray it as retrieved public monies.  They also put the government under question about how it freed the main suspect.

"Four suspects are involved in the case, two of them have been arrested, and two others have fled," Jamal Kochar, Iraqi lawmaker from the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) and member of the Iraqi parliament's finance committee, told The New Arab in a brief interview over phone.

"It seems that the Iraqi government has retrieved the amount from one of the suspects to create trust for the people that the government is serious about combating corruption. However, Sudani should have shown the suspect the stolen money as well," he added. 

He indicated that there is no accurate survey of the amounts in public funds missing due to corruption or embezzlement because the related Iraqi bodies neither shared any data in this regard nor were working independently.

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"Former Iraqi president Barham Salih previously had said that US$150 billion has been smuggled out from the country. Other integrity-related organizations estimate that over US$250 billion has been stolen from the state coffers," Kochar said. 

Iraq ranks low at 157 out of 180 countries in Transparency International's corruption perceptions index. Criminal charges are rare in Iraq and usually limited to mid-level government officials.

"Pervasive corruption is a major root cause of Iraqi dysfunctionality," UN envoy Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert told the Security Council in early October.

"And frankly, no leader can claim to be shielded from it."

Iraq is a major producer of oil, and revenues from the sector feed 90 per cent of the federal government budget.
A wave of anti-regime protests in late 2019 was spurred in large part by anger over corruption and the related dilapidation of public services.