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Brother Of Iraqi Trade Minister Arrested For Graft

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- The brother of Iraq's trade minister was arrested on suspicion of corruption at a checkpoint in the south of the country, officials have said.

Sabah Mohammed al-Sudany, who worked as an aide to his brother, Trade Minister Abdul Falah al-Sudany, was captured on May 7 after he pulled up at a checkpoint in a government car driven by his bodyguards, said a police official in the city of Samawa, about 230 kilometers south of Baghdad.

Sudany, who faces embezzlement charges related to food imports, was taken to the central jail in Samawa.

Security and police officials said large amount of cash, along with gold and identity cards, were found in the car.

Sudany is one of nine top officials, including the head of the state Grain Board, wanted on charges related to the import of food which was placed in ministry storage in southern Iraq and found to be unfit for consumption.

The affair is embarrassing for the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is trying to secure desperately needed foreign investment as he battles a stubborn insurgency and vows to fight widespread corruption.

Theft, fraud, kickbacks, and other corrupt practices have been a major problem for Iraq in the years since the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.

Many Iraqis say corruption has become worse since Saddam was replaced by a nascent democracy that has struggled to rebuild government institutions from scratch and has put few effective controls in place.

The Trade Ministry, which includes the Grain Board, denies any wrongdoing and blames the accusations on disgruntled employees. It is responsible for importing construction materials and food for Iraq's massive ration program.

According to U.S. officials, the Trade Ministry's frequent procurement has made it fertile ground for malfeasance. The Grain Board says it has taken steps to improve its transparency.

The trade minister, who is not charged in the matter, will appear before lawmakers on May 16 to answer questions about corruption, a parliament source said on condition of anonymity.

The minister's brother and most of the other officials have not been at work since late April when Iraqi forces arrived at the Trade Ministry to make arrests, nearly triggering a firefight with ministry guards who tried to scare them off by firing shots into the air.

In 2008, only Somalia and Myanmar were seen as more corrupt than Iraq, according to Transparency International.