Iraq's Ex-Trade Minister, Abdul Falah al-Sudani, Detained in Graft Investigation

By Nada Bakri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, May 31, 2009

BAGHDAD, May 30 -- Iraqi authorities detained the former trade minister on graft charges Saturday after ordering the plane in which he was traveling to turn around, a dramatic development in what has become Iraq's biggest corruption scandal in years.

Abdul Falah al-Sudani, who resigned May 14 amid pressure from parliament, was traveling to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on an Iraqi Airways flight after an Iraqi court filed charges against him. Interior Ministry officials said Sudani was being held in a Baghdad jail and would appear before an investigating judge in the next day or so.

The arrest warrant accuses Sudani, a 62-year-old dual British Iraqi national, of stealing public money and mismanaging the ministry by importing expired foods and employing his relatives, including two brothers.

Authorities have issued hundreds of arrest warrants this year, 51 of which are against senior officials, as disenchantment grows over widespread and brazen corruption thought to run into the billions of dollars. Sabah al-Sudani, the minister's brother, was arrested this month in southern Iraq after being caught with $150,000, $50,000 of which he tried to use to bribe a policeman to let him go, officials said. The other brother, Majid al-Sudani, remains at large.

Abdul Falah al-Sudani's resignation came two days before he appeared before parliament to answer questions about corruption in his ministry. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki waited until after the questioning to accept the resignation.

Sudani is a member of Maliki's Dawa party, a fact the prime minister's opponents have highlighted. Maliki, buffeted by charges that corruption reaches into the highest levels of government, has tried in recent days to seize the initiative from his detractors, declaring Friday that the government's anti-corruption committee would launch a vast campaign against those stealing public funds.

Interior Ministry officials said the order to turn around Sudani's plane and arrest him came from Maliki's office Saturday.

"We will not remain silent over corruption after today," Maliki said in the past week during a visit to the Trade Ministry. "We will pursue those corrupt and bring them to justice."

Parliament, too, has sought to capitalize on the issue. Lawmakers say they plan to question the ministers of transportation and oil about mismanagement and corruption.

The issue of corruption is expected to play an important role in next year's parliamentary elections, which will choose a new government as the Obama administration withdraws combat troops from Iraq. The topic has dominated newspaper headlines and emerges in many conversations in Baghdad's streets.

But the reports of Sudani's arrest were met with skepticism by a public that shows little faith in public statements that something will be done about it.

"It won't make a difference if they arrest him, because he's already smuggled all his money outside of Iraq," said Hameed Salman, 50, an engineer. "Nobody can stop him. It is a country that is simply too vulnerable, and you can do whatever you want."

Special correspondents Aziz Alwan and Qais Mizher contributed to this report.

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