Iraqi ex-ministers face prosecution

August 13, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq --The Iraqi former minister of electricity and several other former ministers and government officials have been charged with corruption or ordered to appear before prosecutors, Iraqi officials announced yesterday, the newest developments in an investigation under way for two years.

The charges, filed in a Baghdad court by the Commission for Public Integrity but unavailable to the public, accuse officials from various departments of misdeeds such as stealing money, accepting kickbacks and assigning millions of dollars to phantom rebuilding contracts that appeared on paper and nowhere else, commission officials said.

Among those newly named in the investigation are Muhsin Shlash, who used to run the Electricity Ministry, a department that has received billions of dollars in reconstruction money over the past three years but has made far less progress than expected. He has not been charged.

Shlash, a Shiite engineer, ran the ministry from May 2005 until May of this year, when he left the country after he learned that he was being investigated, officials said. On his watch, electricity production increased slightly but still remained below prewar levels, according to a July report from the State Department.

The commission, set up by the U.S. occupation and now run by the Iraqi government, has been actively pursuing corruption for two years, looking into hundreds of cases.

In all, 36 former or current senior Iraqi officials have been charged or ordered to appear in the investigation. Most were said to have served in the government of Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, or his successor, Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

When news of the investigations surfaced before last year's election, Allawi said the inquiries were politically motivated.

None of the officials charged could be reached yesterday for comment. Ali al-Shabot, a spokesman for the Commission for Public Integrity, said many of them were out of government or out of the country.

"Some of the ex-officials are abroad, and we will coordinate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to inform Interpol," al-Shabot said, referring to the international police network.

Al-Shabot said the political and sectarian affiliations of the charged officials were across the board. A handful were still employed by the government, he said, and they would be arrested if they were not granted immunity. One of the accused officials who would be immune to prosecution unless Parliament lifts that protection is a Sunni Arab member of Parliament, Nashan al-Jabouri.

Al-Shabot added that other current officials were also being investigated, and more cases could be on the way.

"We've asked for information regarding the work of several high officials in the government now," he said, including the current undersecretary of the Ministry of Electricity and undersecretaries of planning, defense, finance and communications.

The latest allegations come after years of relentless speculation about where billions of dollars in reconstruction and oil money has gone.

Fighting and violence continued yesterday through the rest of Iraq. Late Friday night, the U.S. military said that U.S. troops had killed 26 rebels and wounded six in a gunbattle in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, where Marines have been fighting Sunni insurgents for months.

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