Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Iraq’s Former Trade Minister Finally Convicted Of Corruption But In Absentia


An Iraqi court recently sentenced former Trade Minister Abdul Falah Sudani in absentia for graft. Sudani is from the Dawa Party and was in office during Maliki’s administration. His ministry was investigated several times and in 2009 he received his first of many arrest warrants for corruption. He was acquitted the next year after Dawa interfered in the case, and then arrested again in 2011. That case was dropped as well after political interference. Today Sudani lives in England having escaped any punishment for his crimes. This highlights the weakness of Iraq’s anti-corruption agencies and courts as it took six years to finally find Sudani guilty, and that was only after he was out of office and out of the country.

At the end of November 2015 a court in Karbala sentenced former Trade Minister Abdul Falah Sudani to seven years in absentia for corruption. Sudani was Trade Minister from 2006-09. Sudani was convicted of three charges filed by the Integrity Commission, Iraq’s anti-graft agency in August. This was the final end to several investigations of Sudani, which had been going on for at least seven years.

Iraq’s Trade Ministry was suspected of illegal activity for a long time. Back in September 2008 several high and low level officials at the ministry including the Director General of the State Company for Cars and Machinery, the Director General of the legal department and the Director General of the Sector Directorate were dismissed on suspicion of corruption. They were forced out after members of parliament’s integrity commission collected signatures against them. The committee also wanted Minister Sudani to resign as well since he was responsible for all the illegal business under him and did nothing about it even though he knew about it. Then in May 09 the minister received an arrest warrant from the Integrity Commission along with the Director of the Grain Board, the head of the Ministry’s oversight office, and Sudani’s two brothers who were also employed at Trade. All of them were suspected of taking kickbacks and other illegal work involving food imports. The charges were started when $8 million worth of expired food products were found in a warehouse in Muthanna that were bought by the ministry for the food ration system it administers. Soldiers were sent to the ministry’s offices in Baghdad to serve the warrants, which resulted in a shootout with one of Sudani’s brothers that allowed him and his entourage to escape. He was later arrested at a border crossing trying to leave Iraq and found with $150,000 that he tried to bribe police with to let him go. The Integrity Commission charged the two brothers and Sudani’s nephew of charging $40 in kickbacks for every ton of sugar imported into Iraq. (1) Sudani was in charge of a huge amount of money to run the food rations and other government programs. Like too many Iraqi officials he used that power to enrich himself and his relatives.

The next year Sudani went to trial in Baghdad, (2) but his party saved him. The day before he was to appear in court he tried to get on a plane to leave for the United Arab Emirates, but was stopped and arrested. As soon as the case started there were charges that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Dawa Party, were interfering. (3) There was a move to try to get the case transferred to another court to delay it, and then the presiding judge resigned. In April 2010 Sudani was acquitted for lack of evidence. (4) That was appealed, but his verdict was upheld. (5) The next year, he was issued a warrant again on charge of taking $55 million. (6) Just like the first time, there were reports that politicians were trying to interfere in the case. (7) That was likely why a judge rescinded the warrant the next month. (8) Iraq’s courts are notorious for giving into political pressure and not dealing with high profile corruption. Sudani was a perfect example as the premier and Dawa both made sure he would not be found guilty. Later in 2015 when he was finally sentenced the situation was different because he was no longer a minister and was out of the country so nothing would happen to him.

Sudani finally being convicted was not a victory for Iraq, but rather a sign of its weak institutions. It took years to finally find him guilty, but that was only after he had resigned, left the country, and probably taken his ill gotten loot with him to England. This is rather typical in the country. The ruling parties have threatened and bribed judges to drop these types of trials, which is why the courts are unwilling to take on any serious corruption cases because of the political repercussions. It’s just these types of situations that have led to protests this summer across the nation, and in the past, and led to a deep level of cynicism about the government by the citizenry. There is no serious attempt to change the system, because the elite rely upon payoffs, bribes and kickbacks to rule. It would take a generation to root out these practices, but there is no will to do so as seen by the backlash against Prime Minister Haider Abadi’s reform program.

FOOTNOTES

1. Aswat al-Iraq, “Lawmaker says trade minister misled authorities, violated the law,” 5/17/09

2. Aswat al-Iraq, “Ex-trade minister appears before Samawa court on corruption charges,” 6/1/09

3. Al Jeeran, “The Integrity Committee in the Iraqi parliament warns of intervention in the case of Minister of Commerce accused of corruption,” 12/5/09

4. Alsumaria, “Iraq court acquits former Trade Minister,” 4/29/10

5. AK News, “Federal Appeals court discharges former Iraqi Trade Minister,” 9/2/10

6. Alsumaria, “The issuance of arrest warrants for two of the leaders of the Dawa Party, on charges of corruption,” 6/30/11

7. Aswat al-Iraq, “Cancellation of arrest warrant against ex-trade minister – MP,” 7/12/11

8. Al-Rayy, “Saadi accused the President of the Judicial Council “fail” on the back of the cancellation of arrest warrants,” 7/12/11

SOURCES

AK News, “Federal Appeals court discharges former Iraqi Trade Minister,” 9/2/10

Alsumaria, “Iraq court acquits former Trade Minister,” 4/29/10
- “The issuance of arrest warrants for two of the leaders of the Dawa Party, on charges of corruption,” 6/30/11

Antelava, Natalia, “Iraq arrests minister’s brother,” BBC News, 5/9/09

Aswat al-Iraq, “Cancellation of arrest warrant against ex-trade minister – MP,” 7/12/11
- “Ex-trade minister appears before Samawa court on corruption charges,” 6/1/09
- “Lawmaker says trade minister misled authorities, violated the law,” 5/17/09

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, And Labor, “2009 Human Rights Report: Iraq,” U.S. State Department, 3/11/10

Chon, Gina, “Graft Case Against Ex-Minister Splits Iraq Parties,” Wall Street Journal, 6/1/09

Dagher, Sam, “Gunfight Breaks Out as Iraqi Soldiers Try to Arrest Trade Officials,” New York Times, 5/3/09

Dolan, Jack and Hammoudi, Laith, “Iraq’s disgraced trade minister expected to step down,” McClatchy Newspapers, 5/23/09

Dow Jones, “Iraqi Trade Officials Ousted In Corruption Sweep – Sources,” 5/6/09

Al Forat, “Yasiri: Former Minister of Trade convicted in 3 corruption files,” 8/21/15

Al Jeeran, “The Integrity Committee in the Iraqi parliament warns of intervention in the case of Minister of Commerce accused of corruption,” 12/5/09

Al Mada, “7 years imprisonment in absentia of former Minister of Trade,” 11/29/15
- “Integrity Committee: a second arrest warrant against Sudani and net,” 7/19/11

Rasheed, Ahmed and Ibrahim, Waleed, “Iraq issues warrants for trade chiefs over corruption,” Reuters, 5/3/09

Al-Rayy, “Saadi accused the President of the Judicial Council “fail” on the back of the cancellation of arrest warrants,” 7/12/11

Reuters, “Iraq Trade Minister Resigns Over Corruption Scandal,” 5/25/09

Robertson, Campbell and al-Salhy, Suadad, “Iraqi Officials Expect Moves Amid Inquiry,” New York Times, 5/24/09

Rubin, Alissa, “Iraqi Trade Officials Ousted in Corruption Sweep,” New York Times, 9/24/08

Saadi, Ahmed, “A third arrest warrant was issued against another leader of the Dawa Party on charges of financial and administrative corruption,” Shatt al-Arab, 7/5/11

Sly, Liz, “Ex-trade minister arrested after attempting to flee Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, 5/31/09

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