BAGHDAD - Former Iraqi
Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi and his nephew
Salem Chalabi have vigorously protested their innocence
after the Iraqi Central Criminal Court issued warrants
for their arrest on Sunday, but the implications of the
charges against them could go far beyond a simple issue
of guilty or not.
Ahmad Chalabi, the head of
the Iraqi National Congress (INC), who is in Tehran
on a business trip, is charged with counterfeiting old
Iraqi dinars, while Salem Chalabi, the administrative
head of a tribunal trying former Iraqi leader Saddam
Hussein, the Iraqi War Crimes Tribunal, is charged with
involvement in the murder of an Iraqi Finance Ministry
official in June.
The warrants come a week
before a national conference in which Ahmad Chalabi was
expected to launch a campaign to revive his flagging
political career, and at a time when he is trying to
ally himself with radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada
al-Sadr, whose forces have been engaged in bitter
fighting with US-led troops for the past six days.
"The charges are false and outrageous,"
said Ahmad Chalabi, once favored by the Pentagon and US Vice
President Dick Cheney and a member of the US-appointed
governing council that helped run Iraq until the June
28 restoration of sovereignty. "The judge [Zuhair
al-Maliky] who made them [the charges] has a personal
vendetta against me and my family," Chalabi fumed.
Earlier this year, Ahmad Chalabi
was suspected of providing faulty intelligence to the US
administration of President George W Bush and
accused of passing secret information to Iran,
and his Washington "friends" dropped him like a hot potato,
even though the US Congress had approved tens of
millions of dollars to his INC as an
opposition-in-exile to Saddam.
stem from a May raid of his residence in Baghdad that
turned up counterfeit Iraqi dinars. Chalabi was chairman of
the Iraqi Governing Council's finance committee and
he claims that the fake banknotes were provided to him
because of his role in overseeing the Central Bank of
Iraq. However, the court issued a statement saying that
Chalabi shouldn't have had the counterfeit currency.
"They were marked with ink in order to be sent to the
furnace to burn, and that is where the money should be."
Salem Chalabi, speaking from London, said
he does not remember meeting the man he is alleged to
have killed. "I have no recollection of ever having met
this guy. I have never been to his office as is alleged.
I have never threatened him, because I don't know who he
is," he said.
Salem Chalabi could face the
death penalty if convicted of the murder of Haithem
Fadhil, director general of the Finance Ministry, who
was investigating a real-estate case in Iraq involving
Both Chalabis have said that they would
voluntarily return to Iraq, while the Iraqi judge who
issued the arrest warrants said he would seek
international police assistance and file extradition
requests if they did not return voluntarily to Iraq.
Supporters of the Chalabis say that
the indictments are unjustified and politically motivated
by rivals in the interim Iraqi government. In
Ahmad Chalabi's case the claim has some substance. On
Monday the Iraqi Central Bank said it had not sought an
indictment, and an INC official said the counterfeit
currency on which the indictment was based only amounted
to 3,000 dinars, or US$2.
Further, supporters of
the Chalabis say that while the two cases are unrelated,
the fact that the warrants were issued on the same day
makes them believe that the charges are a political
attempt to "neutralize" the Chalabis. At a news
conference in Baghdad, a spokesman for Ahmad Chalabi
said the charges were the initiative of "American
advisers to the magistrate", whom he characterized as an
No stranger to
trouble Ahmad Chalabi, a trained
mathematician-turned banker convicted in absentia in
Jordan in 1992 to 22 years of hard labor and a $100
million fine for bank fraud, has remained active in
Iraqi politics despite a falling-out with the Bush
administration. With parliamentary elections scheduled
for January, he has been portraying himself as a
champion of Iraq's Shi'ite majority.
political fortunes declining, Chalabi has recently tried
to build a base among followers of radical cleric
Muqtada al-Sadr, who is now battling US-led
multinational forces in what the cleric describes as a
fight to the "last drop of my blood".
It is an
open secret that Ahmad Chalabi and Iraq's interim
premier, Iyad Allawi, are strong political rivals and
that Chalabi has many other political enemies who resent
his former closeness to the US, and the fact that he has
spent most of his time in exile.
name is usually associated with corruption and financial
scandals. Respondents to recent opinion polls in Iraq
have ranked him at the bottom of any list of trustworthy
leaders. The latest brush with the law could deal a body
blow to his political aspirations.
national conference will bring together 1,000 prominent
Iraqis to select a 100-member council to oversee
Allawi's government. Chalabi was expected to try to win
a council leadership position, which would pit him
against Allawi in elections next year.
Scandal mars tribunal US-trained
lawyer Salem Chalabi, 41 (Columbia, Northwestern and
Yale), heads the tribunal trying Saddam for crimes
against humanity, but the murder accusations against him
will provide ammunition to those seeking to undermine
the tribunal's credibility and could lead to a delay in
said he wishes to return to Iraq
to continue working on Saddam's trial. "There are a
large number of staff still working, trying to do the investigations.
But under these kind of allegations it makes
it more difficult," he told the British Broadcasting Corp in an
Saddam has appeared in court once
already to hear the charges against him. The court is
not expected to reconvene until early next year.
Salem was appointed by the former US-led
occupation authority to two of the most important jobs
in Iraq - helping write a temporary constitution and
heading the tribunal to try Saddam.
He also set
up the Iraqi International Law Group in Baghdad a year
ago to facilitate government contracts and encourage
foreign investment. The firm is associated with an
Israeli law firm, Zell, Goldberg & Co. Mark Zell was
a law partner of Douglas Feith, now US deputy under
secretary for defense policy at the Pentagon, and one of
the strongest advocates for the war on Iraq, as was
Ahmad Chalabi. Salem is reported to have worked on
various law-related projects, including helping to draw
up suggestions for a possible post-Saddam constitution
before the war was waged.
Like his uncle, Salem
is resented by many Iraqis for living abroad for so long
and for being perceived as close to the George W Bush
administration in Washington.
Both the Chalabis
have been the subject of many death threats, and Salem
said in a recent interview that he seldom slept in the
same place on consecutive nights while in Baghdad.
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