|(Radio Free Europe)
On November 27 Prime Minister Mohammed al-Sudani announced that $125 million had been recovered from a corrupt businessman who was involved in the theft of $2.5 billion from the Iraqi tax authority. Nour Zuhair Jassim was arrested and had his assets frozen in October. The premier then was just trying to “show progress” in the latest graft scandal when in reality nothing new happened.
In fact, Sudani has been playing politics with the case from the start. Right after he took office in October he made public the missing $2 billion. The story was first reported in September however. It appears that the premier was attempting to embarrass out going PM Mustafa Kazemi under whose watch the crime occurred. Kazemi had been a constant target of criticism by the Coordination Framework which named Sudani its candidate for Iraq’s new leader. This was their parting shot at him.
The case itself involved Jassim and other businessmen backed by Badr withdrawing hundreds of millions of dollars with the help of officials at the government’s tax commission. As Simona Foltyn in the Guardian documented the commission had billions of dollars of deposits paid by foreign companies who never claimed their money because the process was too arduous. PM Kazemi’s office ordered the halt to auditing withdrawals from the commission which allowed the cabal to start taking money out starting in July 2021. At least 247 checks were written to five companies over the next 14 months. In November Finance Minister Ali Allawi ordered an end to the process but he was ignored. Rafidain Bank was writing the checks and its anti-money laundering unit sent letters to management warning about them but nothing was done. Five senior officials at the tax authority and Finance Ministry were implicated afterward along with an adviser to PM Kazemi. Ironically the head of the tax commission who is not under investigation has moved onto the customs commission where it is suspected he is creating a new scheme to steal money.
In response Sudani created a Supreme Anti-Corruption Commission and named a prominent intelligence officer to head it. Anytime a controversy emerges in Iraq the authorities announce a commission to investigate to make it look like something is being done when it is simply part of the cover up. The entire Iraqi government is one giant graft machine where the ruling parties dish out patronage and steal money. Otherwise, investment and services are completely neglected and paying salaries and pensions is about the only thing Baghdad is capable of and that’s only because those are essential to maintain the ruling elite’s networks.
That’s the reason why the country is constantly embroiled in corruption. At the start of November, a parliamentarian from the integrity committee told the press that 200 billion dinars, which is just over $136 million, had been stolen through the Central Bank of Iraq’s dollar auctions which are notorious for nefarious activity. Back in June the Integrity Commission said $697 million was stolen in a money laundering operation in Maysan province that started in 2019. This is what the Iraqi government does. It’s a kleptocracy.
Agence France Presse, “Iraqi PM says fraction of stolen $2.5 bin retrieved,” 11/27/22
- “Nearly $700 mn stolen from Iraq state banks: graft body,” 6/9/22
Foltyn, Simona, “‘Heist of the century’: how $2.5bn was plundered from Iraqi state funds," Guardian, 11/19/22
Jalabi, Raya, “Iraq reels from $2.5bn tax ‘heist of the century,’” Financial Times, 11/17/22
Mahmoud, Sinan, “Ex-intelligence chief picked to lead Iraq’s anti-corruption team in power play by PM,” The National, 11/17/22
- “Iraqi investigators say most of stolen $2.5 billion has been recovered,” The National, 10/27/22
- “Iraqi security forces arrest businessman suspected in $2.5bn embezzlement case,” The National, 10/25/22
Al Masalah, “How did a trillion dinars disappear from a government account?” 9/3/22
NINA, “Under the guidance of PM, the Supreme Anti-Corruption commission formed,” 11/16/22
NRT, “Iraqi Govt Confiscates Assets From Officials Over Allegations Of Missing $2.5 Billion,” 10/23/22
- “Member Of Iraqi Integrity Committee: 200 Billion IQD Stolen During Currency Auction,” 11/2/22
- “Sudan Says Missing 2.5 Billion In Funds Top Priority,” 10/15/22