Iraqi PM: Probe recovers part of $2.5B embezzled from taxes

FILE - Mohammed Shias al-Sudani, Minister of Labor and Social Affairs shows his ink-stained finger after casting his vote in the country's parliamentary elections in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, May 12, 2018. Iraq's Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said in a statement on Sunday Nov. 27, 2022, it will recover part of nearly $2.5 billion in funds embezzled from the country's tax authority in a massive scheme involving a network of businesses and officials. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's government said on Sunday it will recover part of nearly $2.5 billion in funds embezzled from the country's tax authority in a massive scheme involving a network of businesses and officials.

Approximately 182 billion Iraqi dinars, or $125 million, of the stolen sum will be recovered through the seizure of properties and assets belonging to a well-connected businessman complicit in the corruption scheme, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani's office said in a statement.

The amount retrieved was disbursed to Noor Zuhair Jassim, a businessman who was arrested in connection to the scheme along with officials from the government tax authority for withdrawing funds from a tax deposit account between September 2021 to August 2022.

Al-Sudani stressed the ongoing investigation would not spare anyone involved in the scheme, and the government is working to recover the full amount stolen.

Jassim confessed to holding the embezzled sum, the statement added. He is expected to be released on bail. His legal representation did not respond to calls from the AP. Al-Sudani also said the investigation was ongoing and had identified other individuals involved.

Jassim was arrested in late October at Baghdad International Airport. He was named as the CEO of two of five shell companies through which the funds were stolen. According to an internal audit seen by The Associated Press, Jassim obtained over $1 billion from the account.

Officials say it’s unlikely that an embezzlement scheme of this scale could unfold without the knowledge of higher-ups.

Political factions in Iraq have long jockeyed for control of ministries and other government bodies, which they use to provide jobs and other favors to their supporters. A number of factions are linked to different government bodies implicated in the tax scheme.

The current government only came together in late October, more than a year after early elections.