Iraq Recovers Portion of $2.5B Embezzled from Tax Authority

Published: 29 November 2022

Iraqi President with Money

Iraq’s PM, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, said Sunday that roughly $125 million of the $2.5 billion stolen from a government tax account last month will soon be back in the country’s hands. (Photo: Media Office of Iraqi Prime Minister/Twitter, License)

By Henry Pope

The Iraqi government said Sunday that it recovered some of the US$2.5 billion embezzled from its tax authority last month, in what amounted to one of the largest thefts in the country’s history.

Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said on Twitter that roughly $125 million of the stolen funds will be recovered by the government within two weeks. This amounts to the investigation’s first success to recover the country’s lost assets since the theft was first discovered.

Last month, taxpayer revenue totalling 3.7 trillion Iraqi dinars was stolen from a government taxpayer account at Rafidain Bank. The account’s intended purpose was to hold funds meant for public sector contracts.

Inquiries revealed that the money was siphoned from 247 cheques cashed between September 2021 and August 2022 by five companies, three of which were formed mere weeks before the scheme began.

Acting finance minister Ihsan Abdul Jabbar was forced to step down in the aftermath of the scandal coming to light.

Linked to the $125 million is Noor Zuhair Jassim, a businessman in the oil and gas sector, who was arrested late last month at Baghdad International Airport as he boarded a flight leaving the country.

Jassim is the CEO of two of the five shell companies responsible for the theft of the taxpayer revenue; an internal audit revealed that he allegedly received more than $1 billion of the embezzled funds, according to the AP.

Al-Sudani pledged shortly before he took office last month that “we will not allow Iraqis’ money to be robbed,” and made it clear that solving the case is a top priority for his administration.

Likewise, former Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi said near the end of his time in office that “pursuing theft of public money and bringing perpetrators to justice is our top priority...They will continue to distort if not politically confronted and publicly exposed.”

As systemic corruption in Iraq’s finance industry is being investigated, the country’s Federal Commission of Integrity announced two weeks ago the formation of a supreme commission mandated to investigate corruption cases deemed a significant threat to the state.

Iraq has been rated as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Transparency International’s 2021 corruption index ranked it tied for 157th out of 180 nations, although it did improve on its 160th ranking from the year before.