Baghdad- Iraq’s judiciary on Thursday sentenced a former trade minister and two other high-ranking officials in absentia to seven years in prison each on charges of corruption.

Investigators at the Integrity Commission said the three officials were found guilty of graft charges linked to rice imports, embezzling up to $14.3 million of public funds.

Its statement cited a decision issued by Baghdad’s Special Court for Crimes Against Integrity, saying the court “reached the sufficient threshold of proof, and sentenced each official to seven years in prison.”

It also granted banks the authority to freeze their assets.

It did not name those sentenced, but a source at the Commission told AFP they included former minister Malas Abdul Karim Al Kasnazani two senior trade ministry officials.

Al Kasnazani briefly served as trade minister in the previous government of Iraqi premier Haider Al Abadi, but was sacked in December 2015 for failing to show up to work.

At the time, he was widely believed to have fled to Amman after being slapped with an arrest warrant on charges of corruption.

In the 1990s, Al Kasnazani and two of his brothers were briefly arrested for forging the signature of ex-president Saddam Hussain.

Al Kasnazani is the second trade minister to be slapped with a jail term for corruption in the past year alone.

Abdul Falah Al Sudani, who served in the post following the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, had also been sentenced in absentia for graft over food imports.

He was extradited from Lebanon last year by Interpol, then handed over to Baghdad and subsequently sentenced to 21 years in prison.

Iraq is the 12th most corrupt country in the world, according to Transparency International

The embezzlement of public goods - from land to government funds - is a deeply rooted problem in a country with such a large public sector.

Corruption, shell companies and “phantom” public employees who receive salaries but do not work have cost the country the equivalent of $228 billion dollars since 2003, according to Iraq’s parliament.

That figure is more than Iraq’s gross domestic product and nearly three times the annual budget.

AFP