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Former Iraqi Defense Minister Wanted in Corruption Probe


An Iraqi government committee working to purge members of former dictator Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party from positions of power says it is seeking the extradition of Iraq's former interim defense minister from Jordan to face charges of corruption and serving in Saddam's intelligence service.

The executive director of Iraq's Supreme National Commission for De-Ba'athification, Ali al-Lami says his group has asked the government to strip former defense minister Hazem Sha'alan of immunity, so that he could be extradited from neighboring Jordan.

The former minister, who served under the previous interim government of Iyad Allawi, left Iraq after elections in January installed a new government. He was replaced by Sadoun al-Duleimi.

The de-ba'athification group is said to be focused on allegations that Mr. Sha'alan was once known as Haidar Ahmed and served as a high-ranking member of Saddam's feared intelligence service.

Mr. Sha'alan is also accused of being at least partly responsible for the disappearance of some $1 billion from the Defense Ministry when he was in office.

In a May report by the Board of Supreme Audit, Iraqi investigators said they had uncovered evidence suggesting that senior U.S.-appointed Iraqi officials in the Defense Ministry used middlemen to hide enormous kickbacks they had received from contracts involving the purchase of poor-quality, outdated weapons, helicopters and ambulances.

Calling the charges against Mr. Sha'alan extremely serious, the de-ba'athification commission chief Mr. Lami, says he is optimistic that an arrest warrant for the former defense minister can be issued soon.

The head of Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity, Rahdi al-Rahdi, tells VOA that his anti-corruption unit has pieced together a trail of massive theft, fraud and waste in defense and other ministries, dating back to when the country was being administered by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority.

Mr. Rahdi says since his group was formed in May of last year, it has been probing serious corruption allegations, which occurred under the more than yearlong administration of Coalition Provisional Authority head, Paul Bremer. The former Iraqi judge says the stealing of funds earmarked for the Iraqi military, reconstruction and essential services continued unabated after Iraq gained sovereignty in June, 2004.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera Television Monday night, former Defense Minister Sha'alan dismissed the accusations against him, saying that they were part of an effort by the current interim government to cover up its own corrupt practices.

Mr. Sha'alan also says that U.S. administrator Paul Bremer personally approved the appointment of Ziyad Cattan, the defense ministry's procurement chief under the Allawi government and the person at the center of the corruption scandal.

Authorities in Baghdad have issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Cattan, a Polish-Iraqi expatriate who was initially hired by the CPA before moving to the defense ministry. He, like Mr. Sha'alan, is believed to be living in Jordan.

Mr. Bremer says he never approved Mr. Cattan's appointment and does not recall ever meeting him.