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Iraq: Politicians On Corrupt Government Officials And Elections

Hazim al-Sha'lan (file photo) (AFP) RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) held interviews with Radi Hamza al-Radi, the head of the Commission on Public Integrity, and parliamentarian Zakiya Isma'il Haqqi on 17 November in Baghdad to ask why current and former officials under investigation for crimes related to their positions in government are being allowed to run in the 15 December parliamentary elections.

Al-Radi: Regarding the officials, [former] ministers and deputy ministers, who have been prosecuted by criminal and other courts, there are obstacles [against their candidacy in the elections] that are -- first -- moral, and second -- legal. There is a big conflict that has no solution except for not allowing the official to be a candidate [in the elections] until the judicial case is resolved. The legal obstacle is that an official facing a legal case, or anyone accused and waiting to be brought before the court is, in fact, limited in his or her freedom. How can someone facing a legal case of embezzlement of public money become a candidate to represent the people after this?

RFI: Why have the politicians facing legal charges of corruption and embezzlement not been stripped of their legal immunity so that they cannot participate in the elections?
I am fully confident that the Iraqi people are not gullible. This is the first time in Iraq's history that a minister will be put on trial.

Al-Radi: We have raised this issue before the National Assembly through official verified documents that we possess. We have asked also the Council of Ministers to support our request to the National Assembly that those people be stripped off their legal immunity. It must not happen that there is someone facing legal charges but protected through immunity by the National Assembly. We have demanded from the National Assembly first, to strip the accused officials off their immunity and, second, to prohibit them from being candidates [in the elections]. It is illogical that officials have been facing charges of embezzlement of public money and the investigation into their cases is still ongoing but they have not extradited themselves to the court. Some of them are [former] deputy ministers and others are [former] ministers, including [former Defense Minister] Hazim al-Sha'lan.

RFI: Al-Radi has added that the long list of officials facing embezzlement charges who are at the same time taking part in the upcoming elections includes former Labor Minister Layla Abd al-Latif and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Public Works Nisreen Barwari.

Haqqi: Those [politicians facing corruption and embezzlement charges] do not have the right to run [in the elections]. We should not say they have stolen public money but they have done damage on public money. Everyone accused must be considered innocent until the charges are proved. Nevertheless, they have been facing penal cases but their criminal records should be clean if they want to run as candidates [in the elections]. Moreover, a request has been sent by the Commission on Public Integrity to the Council of Ministers and the Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission in this regard, noting that these people facing penal cases must not enter the elections. Iraqis have the legitimate right to elect people who have preserved their integrity.

RFI: The most prominent person in this respect [is ex-Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan], who has been charged with the biggest embezzlement, sees himself as being innocent and, maybe, he will even qualify for immunity with the votes he could get. What is your opinion?

Haqqi: The name of this man has been related to the biggest embezzlement case of over $2 billion. This money has been scattered. I am fully confident that the Iraqi people are not gullible. This is the first time in Iraq's history that a minister will be put on trial. It was the decision of the judicial power that has issued a warrant on [al-Sha'lan] and the Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission must disqualify him unless he clears his name.

(Translated by Petr Kubalek)

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