Hint to the Office of Al-Kazemi and "Badr": a British investigation reveals the details of the "theft of the century"
Reports and analytics Theft of the century
Shafaq News / the British newspaper "Guardian" revealed that the "theft of the century", which was exposed in Iraq and included the looting of 2.5 billion dollars of state funds through tax revenues,
would not have been done without the knowledge of multiple parties, including
"the Prime Minister's office,
the bank that authorized withdrawals,
the integrity commission,
the central bank and
the Badr Organization".
The British newspaper, in a report translated by the Shafaq News Agency, said
it had seen leaked documents and interviewed more than a "dozen" officials, businessmen and bankers familiar with the details of the case of embezzlement of tax revenues that were "whitewashed" by buying real estate in the wealthiest neighborhood of Baghdad.
The British report clarified that the
"theft of the century", which affected 2.5 billion dollars, was facilitated by some of the highest authorities in power,
according to sources and a series of government letters issued in the summer of 2021, adding that the documents signed by several government agencies, including the Office of then prime minister Mustafa al-Kazemi, canceled the financial audit of withdrawals from the accounts of the Iraqi tax authority.
The report considered that these messages did not receive attention at that time, as Iraq was living two years of unrest and heading towards early elections, the work of the parliament was postponed, while the media and the international community focused on the October 2021 elections.
But behind the scenes, the stage was set for the embezzlement of taxes in what appeared to be the biggest corruption scandal under the Western-backed kadhimi government, an amazing case even for a country that is at the bottom of the list of the index of the organization "Transparency International".
According to the 41-page internal investigation report, which was reviewed by The "Guardian", 2.5 billion dollars of tax funds were withdrawn by shell companies without any possibility to be traced on paper with the help of corrupt officials, and
then they were whitewashed through the purchase of real estate in the wealthiest neighborhoods of Baghdad.
The "Guardian" pointed out that it came to the conclusion that this scheme was prepared by a businessman with influential connections, and was carried out by employees of the tax committee with the support of the organization "Badr" allied with Iran.
According to leaked documents and interviews with a large number of officials, businessmen and bankers familiar with the case in detail, it is not possible for a robbery of such a scale to occur without the knowledge of a wide range of entities, including the Prime Minister's office, the bank that authorized the cash withdrawals, the integrity commission and the central bank.
The report quoted a former member of the Finance Committee in Parliament, who asked not to be identified, as saying, "it is a large network and behind it are senior politicians from powerful organizations leading the country, and the heads of departments cannot steal such amounts on their own.
"There is an agreement and everyone gets a piece," he added.
"The claim that the Prime Minister's office agreed to cancel the financial audit and facilitated theft is misleading," said Ahmad najati, the former director of Al-Kazemi's private office, adding that "removing the audit is not an excuse for robbery".
After the report pointed out that the scandal was announced by the outgoing government of Al-Kazemi last month, and that the seizure of state capabilities exists through the consensual system in Iraq, he continued,
"It is said that the seizure of the state has deepened during the reign of Al-Kazemi, who was favored by the West because he pledged to restrain the military factions of groups allied with Iran such as Badr,
but Al-Kazemi lacked a political base and came under pressure from parties and their military wings that tried to tighten their grip on government positions profitable".
The report quoted an employee of the tax committee as saying that "the sharing of positions during the reign of Al-Kazemi was significantly strengthened.. "It was the only way he could stay in power. However, Al-Kazemi's office denied such allegations.
Citing multiple sources, the report said at least one of kadhimi's aides had close ties to the businessman believed to have masterminded the embezzlement scheme, including former kadhimi office manager Raed Juhi.
The report added that Zia al-Mousawi, the intelligence officer appointed by kadhimi to lead the National Operations Center, is on the run from the prosecution of the judiciary, which issued a warrant against him related to corruption charges unrelated to this case.
The report pointed out that in a step before the theft occurred, the former chairman of the Finance Committee in the House of Representatives Haitham al-Jubouri made a recommendation to end the role of the financial audit authority in examining withdrawals from the accounts of the tax authority as there were "many complaints" about the lengthy procedures. The report continued that a month after this decision, Al-Jubouri was appointed as an adviser to Al-Kazemi.
The report explained that these accounts included billions of dollars of tax deposits paid by foreign companies operating in Iraq, which are refundable upon submission of actual financial statements.
He added that these procedures were so burdensome that most companies wrote them off, abandoning unclaimed amounts to accumulate in these accounts.
The report quoted the former member of the Finance Committee as saying that the proposal to cancel the financial audit was supposed to be a red warning sign for the authority, which pledged to fight corruption,
but instead, the Audit Bureau and the Prime Minister's office issued two letters expressing their non-objection to the cancellation proposal.
"It was all part of the plan," he continued.
While the report stated that the implementation of the theft depends on accomplices within the tax authority who have the authority to sign checks, four sources inside the Ministry of Finance were quoted as saying that this network was created by its former director Shaker Mahmoud.
The report continued Based on a document reviewed by the "Guardian", that based on the letter from the Prime Minister's office and a phone call with the audit body, shaker Mahmoud issued an order to cancel the audit.
Shortly thereafter, Shakir Mahmoud was transferred to the customs department, where many suspect that a similar scheme is being worked on, the report said.
The report quoted 7 sources as saying that shaker Mahmoud and the executors of the embezzlement scheme were supported by the Badr Organization, which has control over high-level appointments in the tax and Customs commissions.
Besides, there is a need for the prime minister to approve the managers, according to a decree for the year 2020.
The report pointed out that while the then Finance Minister Ali Allawi signed the administrative appointments papers, sources in the Ministry of Finance said that he does not have much authority over recruitment, and that "two of his candidates refused to take administrative positions after receiving threats from the Badr Organization".
"Allawi could not remove anyone because Badr would not be accepted, and he did not get support from the Prime Minister's office,"one official told the British newspaper.
The head of Al-Kazemi's office denied any responsibility for the theft, saying that this "the entire operation took place inside the Ministry of Finance, started at the Tax Committee and ended at Rafidain bank (owned by the government), both of which are subordinate to the Ministry of Finance".
The report pointed out that the Tax Committee began in July 2021, issuing checks of millions of dollars, the number of which reached 247 checks for at least five companies within 14 months, and these amounts passed through one branch of Rafidain Bank located in the Tax Committee, where the amounts were deposited into the accounts of companies, and then withdrawn immediately.
Noting that this theft did not go unnoticed, the report said that Allawi issued a decree in November 2021 banning withdrawals, without his consent, but these operations continued behind his back.
He added that the anti-money laundering unit of the Rafidain bank sent several letters to the administration to report these financial transactions, but it seems that no action was taken by the Rafidain bank or by the central bank, supposedly the supervisor of the banking sector.
"Such a large amount of money demanded by one of the branches should have raised very serious questions," the report quoted one banking official as saying.
The report also quoted sources as saying that employees of the Tax Commission who spoke publicly were sanctioned and transferred. According to the report, Allawi resigned in frustration in August, speaking in a scathing resignation letter about "a huge octopus of corruption and deception".
When his successor ordered an investigation, the reaction in Parliament was sharp, which later led to his dismissal, the report said.
The report concluded by saying that this case serves as a test for the new Sudanese government to prosecute influential people suspected of involvement in the embezzlement scheme, including members of the coalition that brought him to power.
Despite the confiscation of 55 real estate and 250 million dollars of other assets, the arrest and detention of businessmen and officials of the Tax Authority, the issuance of warrants against others and travel ban orders, the British newspaper quoted a judge in Baghdad as saying that "there is no evidence yet" that high-ranking officials played a role.
The report concluded that few Iraqis believe that there will be real accountability for what happened.
A former member of the Finance Committee was quoted as saying,
"two junior managers will be put in charge, and the others will run away".