Shaalan says allegations against him driven by Iran

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s former interim defence minister said corruption allegations levelled against him are driven by Iran, which he had in the past accused of meddling in Iraq’s affairs.
But an Iraqi official, in seeking to strip the former minister of his parliamentary immunity, said Wednesday dossiers supporting the corruption allegations were submitted to parliament, two legislative committees and Iraq’s Independent Electoral Commission, and the formal request would be submitted on Tuesday.

Hazem Shaalan, who served as defence minister under the government of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi after the handover of sovereignty in June 2004, told the Baghdad daily Azzaman that reports of the disappearance and misappropriation of $1 billion in defence procurement funds were a “political clearing of accounts made by parties backed by Iran.” The funds “they accused me of taking were spent on forming 10 armoured military divisions and to build a new national army from nothing, including 185,000 soldiers” backed by the necessary weapons, artillery and helicopters, the newspaper quoted him as saying.

Shaalan’s statements come days after Ali Al Lami, executive director of Supreme National Commission for de-Baathification which is charged with purging from government former members of Saddam Hussein’s regime, said they were seeking to strip Shaalan of his parliamentary immunity and have an arrest warrant issued in his name.

Lami had told the Associated Press on Monday the complaint submitted to parliament said Shaalan allegedly served in Saddam’s intelligence service using the name Haidar Ahmed. It also said that, as the defence chief, he was responsible for any funds that had disappeared under his tenure.

Iraqi officials in the current government headed by Prime Minister Ibrahim Al Jaafari have put the figure at about $1 billion, or almost all the ministry procurement budget.

On Wednesday, Lami told the AP the request had been submitted to the national assembly, the assembly’s anti-corruption committee and Iraq’s Independent Electoral Commission, and was “backed by a complete dossier that included, among other documents, paperwork showing that between 1996 and 2002, Shaalan worked for Iraqi intelligence under two different names, H-5 and Haidar Ahmed.” “We will formally submit the request on Tuesday,” Lami said.

Several legislators contacted by the AP on Wednesday, while not referring to Shaalan by name, said they expected the measure to pass, largely built on support from colleagues of Falah Shanshan.

Shanshan, who head’s parliament’s de-Baathification Committee, is part of a ruling coalition that includes the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the country’s biggest Shiite Party and which was closely linked to Iran under Saddam’s regime.

Shaalan, who left for Jordan shortly after the election of the new government, denounced the claims as unfounded.

“These accusations are … a political clearing of the accounts, conducted by political parties in the current government implementing Iranian desires in retaliation for my accusations against it in interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs,” he said.

“I defy anyone who says that he saw my signature on a contract with a foreign country except the signature on a contract with Pakistan to supply Iraqi army with equipment,” he said.

Questions about Shaalan’s handling of money while defence minister have been building for months. Earlier this year, media reports said he transferred $500 million to a bank account in Lebanon to buy weapons.

Authorities also claimed that Iraq signed a more than $200 million contract with a Polish arms company for helicopters, but when officials went to pick them up, they found the choppers to be 28 years old. A spokeswoman for the Polish company, Bumar, had requested used helicopters and told them at the time that they were not authorised to take them back with them to Iraq.

In an interview with the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat on Wednesday, he said allegations that he was a former Iraqi intelligence officer have been repeated in the past and were being dredged up again “to tarnish my reputation ahead of the upcoming elections.” “My opponents in the national assembly can do anything against me because they are in the majority,” he said.

Shaalan said he is willing to appear before a corruption hearing so long as it includes American and British officials “as they were responsible for importing the weapons” reportedly purchased by Iraq.

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