Iraqi Justice Minister called to court by militia-linked judge over corruption allegation

Iraqi Justice Minister called to court by militia-linked judge over corruption allegation

05 Jan 2023 ( The National News )

An Iraqi judge who is an ally of a powerful militia leader has summoned Justice Minister Khaled Shawani after accusations that he blocked a corruption investigation, the country’s anti-corruption agency said on Wednesday.

Judge Haider Hanoun, who leads the agency and was the subject of corruption claims in 2016, accused Mr Shawani of “using his power to hinder the work” of investigators.

Mr Hanoun said documents he demanded from the minister incriminated the suspects.

The investigation was launched after prison meals were found to be of “poor quality”, with the amount of food provided much less than would be expected for the payments made.

The agency said Mr Shawani and a senior ministry official were given a court summons “for having refused to provide documents required”.

Mr Shawani has accused the companies that provide prison food of “not delivering” all of the orders despite payments being made.

He called for a committee to be established to monitor food distribution in jails.

That would aim to block the sale of provisions that should be supplied free of charge to inmates to “protect prisoners from extortion”.

Mr Hanoun was a judge until 2016, when the Supreme Judicial Council dismissed him from office on charges of corruption.

Two years later, he tried and failed to became a member of the Fatah parliamentary bloc headed by militia leader Hadi Al Amiri.

Mr Al Amiri is the leader of the Iranian-backed paramilitary Badr organisation.

In 2021, the Judicial High Council appointed Mr Hanoun chief judge in the Maysan Appeals Court.

Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani assumed office in November and immediately removed Ala Al Saadi as head of the Integrity Commission and appointed Mr Hanoun, according to a report by the Utica Risk Services, a Middle East-focused political-risk company.

His appointment drew a lot of controversy, with questions over Mr Al Sudani’s decision.

The summoning of the Justice Minister comes as investigations continue into the $2.5 billon in public funds stolen from a government account, which began in October.

Mr Al Sudani, who took power in October, has spoken regularly about his determination to fight corruption.

The majority of prime ministers make similar pledges after assuming office in Baghdad, although little has been done to curb corruption since the US-led invasion of 2003.

In Iraq, the elites have routinely evaded accountability in corruption cases.

The UN envoy to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, said last month that “pervasive and systemic corruption is one of the biggest challenges” facing the country.

“It undermines progress, deprives citizens of their rights, discourages international investment and robs the state of the resources needed to deliver to its people better schools, hospitals, roads and countless other public services,” she said.

Iraq ranks near the bottom of Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, at 157 out of 180 countries.