Iraqi court slaps former electricity minister with travel ban

Luay Al-Khateeb investigated over charges of corruption and squandering public funds.
Thursday 13/08/2020
A 2015 file picture shows Iraqi protesters holding a mock-coffin for electricity during a demonstration against corruption and poor services, in the Shia shrine city of Karbala, south of Baghdad. (AP)
A 2015 file picture shows Iraqi protesters holding a mock-coffin for electricity during a demonstration against corruption and poor services, in the Shia shrine city of Karbala, south of Baghdad. (AP)

BAGHDAD –Iraq’s Al-Karkh Investigation Court, which deals with integrity issues, ordered a travel ban on former Iraqi Electricity Minister Luay Al-Khateeb over charges of corruption and waste of public funds.

According to a document seen by media, the court issued a travel ban on Khateeb and Falah Al-Dulaimi, the former head of the financial and administrative department at the electricity minister.

News of the travel bans were confirmed Thursday by Iraq’s Integrity Commission.

“Regarding the details of the investigated case that were referred to the judiciary, the Investigation Department at the Commission confirms that Al-Karkh Investigation Court, which is specialised in integrity issues, issued a travel ban against the former Minister of Electricity and the head of the Ministry’s Financial and Administrative Department,” the Integrity Commission said in a statement.

“The travel bans come against the background of violations committed in the procedures for hiring 82,555 employees on a daily basis, in contravention of the law and instructions, and without the need for these employees’ input,” the statement added.

The commission also indicated that “its investigations into the case revealed the committed violations cost the state about 36 million dollars, which was paid from the ministry’s expenditures every month.”

The new development comes one day after Khateeb said an armed force belonging to the office of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi stormed his house in Baghdad, confiscated recordings of surveillance cameras and left a number of officers to guard him.

Khateeb, who was outside the house when the force stormed the premises, said he asked the force to explain the reason for the operation. The armed force told him that they were carrying out a judicial order, but refused to show the order to the guards stationed outside the house, he said.

Speaking to reporters, Khateeb said he is in possession of a fundamental lease contract for the house that is valid until the end of the year.

The former electricity minister was considered resigned when former Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi walked out last November, yielding to street pressure that began the month before demanding reforms and an end to corruption and foreign interference.

Khateeb recently returned to the spotlight after the national electricity system collapsed amid a severe heat wave, during which the Iraqi cities of Baghdad, Maysan and Anbar recorded temperatures of up to 52 degrees Celsius.

Kadhimi announced that the electricity grid’s collapse was due to the previous government’s neglect and failure to conduct regular maintenance operations.

“The previous ministry did not implement projects for the maintenance of (the) electricity grid, which exacerbated the problem, especially in this tough economic and financial juncture that Iraq is experiencing due to the collapse of global oil prices and the implication of the coronavirus pandemic,” Kadhimi said.

Sources told The Arab Weekly on condition of anonymity that Khateeb’s house was searched for evidence that could support the prosecution’s charges if a lawsuit were to be filed against the former minister.

The same sources said Khateeb was aware of contracts signed for financial gain that did not benefit the sector, which could have affected the rates of electricity production and distribution.

Khateeb may have also failed to initiate investigations into suspicions of corruption in the signing of contracts to establish power stations for unclear reasons, according to the same sources.

A file picture shows Iraq’s former Electricity Minister Luay Al-Khateeb shaking hands with the CEO of Siemens, Joe Kaeser, as.German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, applauds. (DPA)
A file picture shows Iraq’s former Electricity Minister Luay Al-Khateeb shaking hands with the CEO of Siemens, Joe Kaeser, as.German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, applauds. (DPA)

Despite the government’s fulfilment of its financial obligations in all contracts for the construction of power stations, many of the projects did not come to fruition due to corruption and extortion by pro-Iranian militias.

Senior officials are now accused by Iraqis of providing militia groups with information about energy companies with the aim of extorting them and sharing the proceeds.

Iraq spent about $50 billion on the electricity sector between 2003 and 2019 without effectively addressing its chronic crisis.

The coronavirus pandemic deepened the devastating effects of the electricity crisis on Iraqis’ lives.

Last month when temperatures soared above 50 degrees celsius, locals were forced to stay at home because of pandemic-related restrictions. During this time, they received electricity for only 8 hours per day, leaving them with 16 hours of blackout.

In recent weeks, many Iraqis have taken to social media to lament their conditions, with some even calling for international intervention to resolve the crisis.

The controversy surrounding the former electricity minister goes beyond accusations that he failed to manage the maintenance file.

There are also suspicions that the ministry coordinated with political parties and armed groups to hire thousands of their supporters within the ministry’s institutions, even though they were not needed and the country’s general budget was not slated to cover their salaries.

Under Khateeb, the electricity ministry absorbed about 90,000 new employees despite only having the financial resources to hire 5,000.