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Shafaq News / Many legal and political obstacles hinder the process of recovering Iraq's smuggled funds, observers and economists say.
At a time when the state is suffering from the corruption that has harmed all government institutions, no real figure is known for the amount of money smuggled, as government figures conflict over the reality of those funds that have drained the country's wealth. So while billions of dollars are being talked about, looted, and smuggled under the former regime and beyond, which continue to steal and smuggle out of Iraq.
President Barham Saleh recently announced that he had submitted a bill to restore the proceeds of corruption to parliament to recover some 150 billion dollars smuggled abroad after 2003, while the Integrity Commission had estimated the amount of money smuggled so far at nearly 350 billion dollars, equivalent to 32% of Iraq's revenues in 18 years.
Iraq's diplomatic weakness
"There is a difficulty in recovering Iraqi funds smuggled abroad because of Iraq's low diplomatic weight and the lack of a real political will to recover it, as most current politicians had a role in smuggling them," economist Dhurgham Mohammed Ali told Shafaq News agency.
"Most of those funds have been laundered with investments and real estate in countries with which we do not have agreements, as well as countries' lack of seriousness with this file," Ali said.
"Iraq needs to appoint independent international follow-up and accounting companies," he added.
In August, Finance Minister Mohammed Allawi said that Iraq's foreign-smuggled funds amounted to 150-200 billion dollars, only 5% of which belonged to the former regime, revealing the loss of 20 billion dollars as funds smuggled to Lebanon.
The money smuggled after 2003 varied from the smuggling of funds collected from budget thefts to government contracts that handed over their funds to contractors without carrying out projects, inflated bribes and extortion, as well as thefts of billions of dollars by employees while working in financial institutions.
Commitment of States
"There are no different laws between the states, as it is rumored, that prevent the recovery of money smuggled from Iraq. Nevertheless, we need the cooperation and commitment of the Arab interior and justice ministers participating in this conference to requests from the Iraqi judiciary to recover the accused and convicted, as well as the smuggled funds," legal expert Tarek Harb told Shafaq News agency.
"Most of the money smuggled is in Arab countries, although there is some in Turkey and Switzerland," he said, adding, "We need bilateral agreements later with Turkey, or we turn to the Security Council to help us decide on that."
300 billion smuggled abroad
"The current conference on recovering the smuggled funds is a continuation of what the head of the Integrity Commission put forward a few days ago at the Conference of the Parties against Corruption in Vienna, which called on member states to help Iraq," Mohammed Rahim, a member of the Al-Nahrin Foundation for Transparency Support, told Shafaq News agency, adding, "These funds can be recovered if countries cooperate with Iraq."
"The money cannot be calculated, but compared to the general budget and the 40% of stolen contracts and projects, we can say that 250-300 billion are stolen from the budget," Rahim said.
"There are safe hiding places for smuggled money, including Beirut -before its currency's collapse- Dubai, and Turkey," he added.
"Recovering smuggled funds is a complicated file that requires real international cooperation, legal and technical follow-up, and states cooperation," Mudhar Muhammad Salih, the PM's financial advisor, told Shafaq News agency.
"The government and the refund committee need lawyers, international advisory offices, and institutions to investigate the matter," he said, adding, "Iraq has a lot of money that has been illegally seized over the past 30 years."
"The conferences currently held in Baghdad on the recovery of smuggled funds are important because they enhance cooperation between countries, facilitate the return of those funds, and increase the possibility of detecting them in these countries," he continued.
The International Conference on The Recovery of Looted Funds events were launched in Baghdad on September 15th and 16th.
The conference was sponsored by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and attended by Arab League President Ahmed Aboul Gheit, several justice ministers, heads of judicial councils and oversight bodies, many representatives of Arab associations and organizations, as well as legal, academic, and media figures.
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