ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – An Iraqi electoral candidate allied with Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi's Victory Coalition denied charges on Tuesday of being part of a scheme to move millions of dollars from Tehran to Hezbollah, as charged by the US Treasury Department. He appeared to claim the actions were politically-motivated against him, personally.
"After it became apparent that [I] had won a seat in parliament, some parties started to raise issues here and issues there," said Aras Habib Kareem, successor to Ahmed Chalabi as Secretary General of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and Chairman/Chief Executive of Iraq-based al-Bilad Islamic Bank.
Kareem was sanctioned earlier that day by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) earlier that day, “for assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of” Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force.
Also sanctioned were the Governor of the Central Bank of Iran and a key Hezbollah official. The IRGC’s Quds Force was labeled as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) on Oct. 25, 2007, and the IRGC itself also designated on Oct. 13, 2017.
"While we are surprised by the timing of the statement issued by the US Treasury Department, especially before the announcement of the final results of the Iraqi elections, we confirm that we have all conclusive evidence that refutes these fabrications of me personally and [al-Bilad] Islamic Bank," read a statement featured on Kareem's website.
Kareem, a Feyli Kurd, was one of the key Iraqi figures, along with Ahmed Chalabi, who worked with US intelligence organizations in the runup to the 2003 toppling of the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Later, US officials claimed Kareem, then Chalabi's intelligence chief, was a paid agent for Iranian intelligence and had been involved in passing information between the US and Iran. He was reported to have escaped a 2004 raid on Chalabi's Baghdad residence by American and Iraqi forces in which computers and other documentation were recovered that provided proof of Kareem's involvement with Iranian intelligence while he was working with the US.
The Treasury noted that its sanctions followed US President Donald Trump’s decision on May 8 to end America’s participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a deal signed between Iran and world powers meant to curb Tehran’s nuclear activities.