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Illustrative image. Image Credit: Pixabay

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s anti-corruption agency has said the justice minister had been given a court summons after he was accused of blocking a graft probe by refusing to hand over documents.

Investigations began last month into “suspicions of corruption” in the delivery of prison meals, with “poor quality” and limited food provided compared to the payments made.

On Tuesday, Judge Haider Hanoun, who heads the government’s anti-corruption agency, accused Minister of Justice Khaled Shawani of “using his power to hinder the work” of investigators.

Hanoun said documents he had demanded from Shawani “incriminated” the suspects.

On Wednesday, Shawani and a senior ministry official were given a court summons “for having refused to provide documents required”, the agency said in a statement.

Shawani, speaking about the corruption allegations on Tuesday after a prison inspection, had accused the companies of “not delivering” all the food orders despite having received payment.

He also spoke about a committee monitoring food distribution in jails, to block sale of provisions that should be supplied for free to inmates to “protect prisoners from extortion”.

Prime Minister Mohammad Shia Al Sudani, who took power in October, has made regular speeches about his determination to fight graft.

In Iraq, an oil-rich country ravaged by endemic graft, the elite have routinely evade accountability in corruption cases.

The United Nations envoy to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, said last month that “pervasive and systemic corruption is one of the biggest challenges” facing the country.

“It undermines progress, deprives citizens of their rights, discourages international investment and robs the state of the resources needed to deliver to its people better schools, hospitals, roads, and countless other public services,” he said.

In October, Iraq was rocked by revelations that $2.5 billion in public funds were stolen from a government account.

Iraq ranks near the bottom of Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, at 157 out of 180 countries.