In the past week, a series of court orders were issued against me including freezing of my assets and the issue of a warrant for my arrest. These measures were related to the so-called theft of the century. The charge against me was specifically for “facilitating the theft of the trust accounts of the tax authority.” I have no detailed information as to what these charges are based on, except I was told that such information is being kept secret.
I first received this disturbing news not from any official source addressed to me but rather through social media. It transpired that the order to freeze my assets was sent by the High Court to the Ministry of Finance on February 2, 2023, a month nearly before I had heard of it in social media. Similarly, the arrest warrant was also not delivered to my home in Baghdad or to my personal address, but was in the form of a posting on the website of the Integrity Commission.
I find these measures shocking and impugn my integrity and my years of service in the government of Iraq, and for the people of Iraq.
I reject totally and utterly these baseless charges.
When I was appointed Minister of Finance, Iraq’s financial conditions were extremely precarious. The treasury was empty; the Coronavirus pandemic was raging; and oil prices had collapsed. We succeeded in meeting these exceptionally challenging circumstances. We averted a debt default, ensured the proper payment of public sector salaries, and started the process of economic reform that culminated in the issue of the White Paper. At the end of the tenure of the government of Prime Minister Kadhemi, our foreign exchange reserves reached $ 100 billion, and a surplus with the Ministry of Finance that reached $ 25 billion. We left the new government with extremely robust finances to buttress the state budget.
As Minister of Finance, I had worked assiduously in office to block and expose corrupt practices. I cooperated fully with the Integrity Commission and did not hesitate in sending them sensitive files that held the possibility of corruption. Most significantly, I blocked a contract that would have imposed massive, unwarranted costs running into the hundreds of millions of dollars on the clients of the largest state-owned bank. I had launched the automation of the customs department by contracting with a UN agency for a world-renowned customs automation system. I was well advanced in developing the tender requirements for automating the tax system for the Tax Authority, in cooperation with the World Bank. Both of these would have practically eliminated the possibility of large scale corruption when fully implemented. I worked on an entirely new set of by-laws for the state owned banks, which if implemented would bring our banking sector up to international standards. A priority was the digitisation of the banks. Both of these measures would have reduced enormously the incidence of corruption in the state banking sector.
In relation to the theft of the century in particular, I took a number of measures in October and November 2021, when indications that untoward activities were taking place in the tax authority, the General Commission for Taxes.
In particular, on November 4, 2021 I issued a ministerial directive to the tax authority that banned them from issuing any tax refunds from the trust accounts without specific approval from the office of the minister.
It became clear subsequently that the director general of the tax authority did not abide by the ministerial directive. If these orders had been followed, the vast majority of the theft would not have taken place.
I was 72 years old at the time that I joined the government of Prime Minister Kadhimi. I had left a world of writing and lecturing in order to serve my country at this advanced age. I made it clear that I was not interested in politicking and that my focus would be exclusively on setting the groundwork to reform the Iraqi economy. Fighting corruption was an instrumental part of the plan. In my resignation letter of August 16, 2022 from the post of Minister of Finance, I had openly discussed my fears about the extent of corruption in the country and its threat to Iraq as a state and the damage done to its effectiveness in providing security and prosperity for the people.
After I left office, I was approached by the Integrity Court to act in a capacity as a friend of the court and provide them with information regarding the issues I raised in my resignation letter. I informed them I was out of the country, and I did not hear from them until two months later. I informed them once again of my readiness to cooperate with them and gave them my contact details. Once again there was no formal response from them.
Separately, I had appeared for nearly three hours in front of the parliamentary subcommittee investigating the theft of the century in a zoom call.
I have always acted truthfully and never shirked from my responsibility cooperate fully with the properly constituted authorities. However, this incredible turn of events has taken place where I, a leading anti corruption advocate, is now charged with the very crimes that I have spent years exposing and fighting. These formal charges were preceded with a torrent of leaks against me on social media. It was followed by an unprofessional, unprecedented and clearly biased appearance on TV by the investigative judge on the case where he pointed an accusatory finger at me by describing me in detail without actually naming me. This was before any charges had been made.
I can only surmise therefore that there had been serious errors in the investigative process. Or that I have been made a scapegoat on a charge of which I am totally innocent, so as to cover-up on the true culprits.
I will not accept these unfounded charges and I shall fight to show that these charges are outrageous. Moreover, I will devote the rest of my time to uncovering the ramifications of the theft of the century, from its planners, executors, accomplices and beneficiaries to those who have systematically covered up this crime and foisted an outrageous charge on a completely innocent party. I shall help to expose them and bring them to justice.
As God is my witness.
As a first step, I shall release a detailed outline of all the steps and measures we took in the Ministry of Finance relating to the tax authority. I will also respond to the final report of the Parliamentary subcommittee on the theft of the century, and in particular the items related to my actions at the ministry in this regard.
“Except for those who believe and do good deeds,
Who mention the name of God often,
And who win through, after being wronged,
Wrongdoers will surely know what adversity they shall fall upon.”
Ali A. Allawi
Former Minister of Finance, 2020-2022
March 12, 2023