Iraqi court issues warrant for anti-graft official

BAGHDAD Tue Sep 8, 2009 1:28pm EDT

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A top Iraqi court has issued an arrest warrant for a senior anti-corruption official who is himself probing questionable accounting at the court, on charges he wasted money as a civil servant under Saddam Hussein.

Abdul-Basit Turki, the head of Iraq's Board of Supreme Audit, one of a handful of government agencies dedicated to fighting widespread corruption, stands accused of "wasting national funds in the past government," Iraqi High Tribunal chief judge Aref al-Shaheen told Reuters late on Monday.

"He occupied an important position in the presidential office ... during Saddam's time," Shaheen added.

But in a news conference on Tuesday, Turki said he was himself investigating officials at the court over accounting irregularities. He questioned the timing of the warrant.

"I'm surprised to hear about this warrant," Turki said. "I have no idea what their goals are."

The Iraqi High Tribunal was set up after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to try Saddam and former members of his government. It has handed down death sentences and long prison terms to officials loyal to the former leader, who was executed in 2006.

Turki declined to comment on whether the warrant was politically motivated, but said he had recently compiled a report documenting numerous violations of accounting rules at the tribunal. This was a follow-up to a report in July last year that first reported such a problem.

"We are now investigating their files for this year and we will highlight the violations that they still have not addressed," he said. "The new annual report about those violations is due to be issued this month."

Iraq has several agencies in place dedicated to combating corruption, including the Board of Supreme Audit, an executive Integrity Commission, and inspectors general across ministries.

Nonetheless, corruption is considered to be of epidemic proportions in Iraq, and is likely to figure prominently as a key issue in the lead-up to national elections in January.

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

(Reporting by Suadad al-Salhy and Waleed Ibrahim; writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Andrew Roche)

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