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Iraq says $150b stolen oil cash smuggled out since 2003

By AFP - May 24,2021 - Last updated at May 24,2021

BAGHDAD —  Iraq's president said on Sunday $150 billion from oil had been smuggled out of the country since Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003, as he introduced a law to fight endemic corruption.

President Barham Saleh presented a draft law to parliament to fight corruption, recover stolen funds and hold perpetrators to account, a statement read.

He called "on parliament to adopt this crucial piece of legislation, in order to curb this pervasive practice that has plagued our great nation".

Transparency International ranks the country 21st from bottom in its Corruption Perceptions Index.

"Of the close to a trillion dollars made from oil since 2003, an estimated $150 billion of stolen money has been smuggled out of Iraq," Saleh added, calling for cooperation with other governments and international bodies to recover the funds.

Endemic corruption was one of the drivers of protests that shook Iraq from October 2019 to June 2020.

"Corruption is an impediment to any nation's economic and social development," the Iraqi head of state said, whose powers are limited under the constitution.

"It deprives citizens of opportunities and livelihoods, and robs them of essential services and infrastructure," he added.

Saleh said violence and terrorism, which have plagued Iraq for years, "are deeply intertwined with the phenomenon of corruption".

The draft law targets those who have held positions of director general and above in both government and public companies since the establishment of a new regime in 2004.

Under the law, transactions over $500,000 would be scrutinised as well as bank accounts, particularly those that held over $1 million, and contracts or investments obtained through corruption would be cancelled.

But security and politics expert Fadel Abo Ragheef was sceptical the law would be passed. 

"It's certainly one of the best pieces of legislation proposed by the executive branch since 2003. But will it be adopted? I doubt it," he said. 

"The political parties the lawmakers belong to will act to sabotage it, so it doesn't pass," he said.

"In public they will support it, but behind the scenes, they will do everything to prevent its adoption, because many of the politicians are involved in this racket".

An Iraqi banking source said politicians have smuggled $60 billion out of the country.

However, much of that was via Lebanon, a move now likely to their detriment, as the country is mired in a severe economic crisis, and it is almost impossible to get money out of its banks.

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