Iraq's 'theft of the century': Former senior parliamentary official arrested
The former head of the Iraqi parliament’s finance committee has been arrested by anti-corruption investigators as part of an inquiry into the theft of 3.7 trillion dinars ($2.5bn) from Iraq’s tax authority.
Haitham al-Jubouri, who was also an adviser on financial affairs in the office of former prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, is among the most senior figures embroiled so far in a spiralling corruption scandal that has been dubbed the “theft of the century” by Iraqi media.
Sources told Middle East Eye Jubouri was detained at an address in Baghdad early on Wednesday after the Supreme Public Commission for Combating Corruption in Iraq issued a warrant for his arrest.
The warrant charged Jubouri over unexplained wealth totalling more than 16 billion dinars (about $11m) and with “enrichment at the expense of public money”.
Property, cars, gold
In a statement, the commission said Jubouri was suspected of inflating his wealth, citing property, cars and gold which he owned, and loans held in his name.
A senior official familiar with the case told MEE investigators were scrutinising Jubouri's wealth “which is not at all commensurate with his annual financial income as a university professor, member of parliament and adviser”.
Jubouri was a university professor specialising in mechanical engineering until 2018 when he entered politics as part of the State of Law Coalition led by former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki.
He was elected to parliament and then appointed chair of the parliamentary finance committee which he headed until October 2021.
He then became a financial adviser in Kadhimi’s office until Kadhimi stepped down last month with the creation of a new government headed by Mohammed Shia al-Sudani.
Jubouri’s arrest comes after MEE last week revealed extraordinary details of a confidential Ministry of Finance investigation into the theft of 3.7 trillion dinars in cash from the bank accounts of the Iraqi General Commission of Taxes (IGCT).
The investigation found that those behind the plot set up a web of fake companies and used hundreds of fake cheques to steal the money from IGCT accounts held by a state-owned bank between September 2021 and August 2022.
The investigation also suggested the thefts had been facilitated by the removal of Iraq’s public spending watchdog, the Federal Board of Supreme Audit (FBSA), from oversight of tax deposit refund requests just weeks before the first cheques were cashed.
The removal of the FBSA’s oversight role, which was approved by senior officials in Kadhimi’s office and at the FBSA and IGCT, was initially proposed by Jubouri in a letter to Iraq’s then-finance minister Ali Allawi in July 2021.
According to the letter, which MEE has seen, Jubouri told Allawi his committee had received complaints from companies frustrated that payment of tax refunds was being delayed by the FBSA’s scrutiny of the process.
In a statement to MEE last week, Jubouri said responsibility for changes to the auditing process rested with the IGCT. He said he had only proposed that the FBSA’s role should be limited to its statutory role according to Iraqi finance laws.
“Those who stopped the audit were [carrying out] the directives of the IGCT… not the proposal we submitted,” said Jubouri.
The exposure of the scale of the theft has raised serious concerns of corruption or negligence involving senior officials at a range of state institutions and within the wider Iraqi political system.
Others who are currently subjects of arrest warrants in connection with the investigation include Raed Jouhi, the former director of Kadhimi’s office and head of Iraq’s intelligence service until last month, on charges of failing to implement an arrest warrant against another official suspected of involvement in the plot.
Prime Minister Sudani said on Sunday the Iraqi government had recovered about 182 billion dinars ($125m) of the stolen money and expected to recover funds totalling about 1.7 trillion dinars ($1.2bn) within two weeks.
Sudani said the money had been recovered from a businessman, Nour Zuhair Jassim, identified as the chief executive of two of the five companies that received the stolen money. Jassim was released on bail earlier this week.