Sunday, 31 May 2009

Former Iraqi Minister held after Dubai flight drama

From 31 May '09

Imagine it, his last meal as a free man was airline food.
Former Iraqi trade minister Abdel Falah al-Sudani has been arrested after his plane, en route to Dubai, was dramatically ordered back to Bagdhad as he tried to flee the country in the wake of a graft scandal.

Sudani was on board a flight to Dubai, which authorities turned back to the capital so that he could be arrested, said Sabah al-Saedi, head of parliament's corruption and integrity commission.

"The minister was trying to escape from justice and was headed to the United Arab Emirates (UAE)," said Saedi. "After some phone calls were made to judicial authorities and the airport, the airplane was turned back and the minister arrested," he said.

On Monday, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office announced that Sudani had resigned amid allegations of corruption and embezzlement linked to the nation's food assistance programme.

"An arrest warrant was issued against the minister under the charge of corruption," said Saedi. "He is the main person responsible for corruption in the ministry."

A commission official later told state television that on Sunday "procedures would be taken according to the law" against Sudani.

The trade ministry operates a nearly six-billion dollar annual budget that provides a monthly public food distribution programme for Iraqis. It also manages the import of grain, seeds and construction materials.

A security official told AFP Sudani was on Jupiter Airlines PHW604 over the southern Iraqi city of Basra when Saturday's drama unfolded.

"At 1pm the minister took the plane going to Dubai but representatives from the commission arrived at the airport with police shortly after," said the official on condition of anonymity."They contacted the plane and forced it to turn back. When it landed security personnel arrested the minister.

"Sudani, a member of Maliki's Shiite Dawa faction, had already been questioned by parliament over claims relating to imports for the food rationing programme.Maliki vowed to root out graft in the government, after Sudani, who was accused of importing expired commodities, mainly sugar; procuring illegal contracts and failing to fight corruption in his ministry, quit.

"We will institute reforms ... and we will search for the truth," Maliki told reporters on Wednesday after talks with senior trade ministry officials.

"We will not stand with arms folded in the face of corruption. We will pursue those who are corrupt and bring them before the courts," Maliki said, while placing the ministry under his authority.

Maliki stressed on Wednesday he was immediately instituting measures to fight graft in Iraq.

"We will recruit new executives to replace those who are not qualified and we urge those in charge of purchases to sign contracts with large global companies directly rather than through intermediaries," he said.

The Commission on Public Integrity, tasked with fighting corruption in Iraq, announced on Wednesday that 997 officials are being investigated for alleged graft, including 53 people ranked as directors general or higher.

It said 120 Iraqis were arrested for corruption in April and May.

Watchdog group Transparency International ranked Iraq in 2008 as the world's third-most corrupt country behind Somalia and Myanmar.

Iraq's food rationing system was established in 1995 as part of the United Nations oil-for-food programme following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

The public distribution programme has been plagued by mismanagement and corruption since the 2003 US-led invasion.

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