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Iraq Judge Denies Political Motive for Chalabi Warrants - 2004-08-09

The Iraqi judge who issued arrest warrants against prominent Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi and his nephew Salem has denied allegations the charges are politically motivated. Both of the Chalabis have proclaimed their innocence.

Neither man was in the country when it became known that warrants had been issued for their arrest. Ahmad Chalabi is in Iran, and his nephew, Salem Chalabi, in London.

A former member of the Iraqi Governing Council, Ahmad Chalabi was once strongly backed by the Pentagon, which favored him as a possible leader for Iraq. He was never popular at home, though, and has now fallen out of favor with the United States, which is investigating whether he leaked intelligence to Tehran.

Salem Chalabi heads the special tribunal set up to try Saddam Hussein for crimes against humanity.

The judge who issued the arrest warrants, Zuhair al-Maliky, describes the charges against them: "One case for counterfeiting, currency counterfeiting, an arrest warrant has been issued for Ahmad Chalabi based on complaints submitted by the Central Bank of Iraq,? Mr. Maliky said. ?For Salem Chalabi, there has been an arrest warrant issued for murder case, according to Article 406 of the Iraqi Penal Code. He is a suspect for the murder of the director general of the Ministry of Finance."

The judge would not discuss details of the cases, but he said the counterfeiting charge involves old Iraqi dinars adding up to what he called a good amount of money. He says Salem Chalabi is not accused of actually pulling the trigger, but of involvement in the murder, along with two other, unidentified, suspects.

Speaking to the Reuters news agency from Tehran, Ahmad Chalabi denied the charges, and called them politically motivated. His nephew, Salem, made similar denials in an interview with British radio in London.

"The charges are ridiculous,? Ahmad Chalabi responded. ?The charge, supposedly, is that I made a threat to this Ministry of Finance official who was investigating properties belonging to me. A few days later, he complained to his wife that he was threatened by a number of people, not only me, but a number of people, and then he was killed."

He says he does not even recall meeting the man he allegedly threatened, and he says he was in meetings with the Governing Council when the alleged threats were made.

Salem Chalabi says the charges are aimed at discrediting the special tribunal he heads. He says the judge who issued the warrants has publicly criticized the way he runs the tribunal.

But Mr. al-Maliky denies any political connection to the charges, and says a three-judge panel decided to issue the arrest warrant in the murder case.

"There is no political motivations in this case,? Mr. Maliky said. ?It is purely judicial business. No political parties or influences come to this court. The judiciary is independent in Iraq now, and there is no political motive behind these cases."

Both of the Chalabis say they want to return to Iraq to face the charges. But Salem Chalabi expressed concern for his safety, if he comes back.

"I want to clear my name, obviously,? he said. ?This is a crazy thing. I was planning on returning to Baghdad, but was threatened by being put in jail, and, in fact, indirectly, word came to me that I would be killed there, because of the fact that Iraqi jails are full of Baathists. And so I am trying to resolve this before returning."

It appears it will be up to him to decide whether to return to Iraq. The British Foreign Office says it will not extradite him to stand trial, because Britain has no extradition treaty with Iraq.