Iraqi court sends health ministry employees to prison for embezzling over $4 million

Iraqi protesters hold a sign calling to end the nation's rampant institutional corruption. (Photo: Archive)
Iraqi protesters hold a sign calling to end the nation's rampant institutional corruption. (Photo: Archive)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council announced on Wednesday that it had issued prison sentences to two health ministry employees after they were convicted of misappropriation and theft of millions of dollars in government funds.

"The Rusafa Criminal Court that specializes in integrity issues issued four sentences of severe imprisonment of two years to two employees of the Ministry of Health for embezzling more than six billion Iraqi dinars ($4.1 million),” read a statement released by the council.

It explained that the two, both members of the committee in charge of ministry salaries and security expenditures, had created and disbursed salaries for fictional security forces under the pretext that the government had specified the funds for the protection of health workers.

"The court ordered the convicts to pay back the amount taken to the Ministries of Health and the Interior, in accordance with the provisions of Article 321 of the Penal Code," the statement continued, adding that "the court found the evidence obtained was sufficient and convincing against the accused."

Iraq has one of the world’s largest oil reserves and is the second-largest oil producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). However, its citizens suffer from extreme poverty and high unemployment rates.

The embattled Middle Eastern nation continues to rank high on Transparency International’s list for corruption, fraud, and mismanagement of state institutions, some of the most significant challenges facing the country since the 2003 fall of the former regime.

Widespread anti-government demonstrations began in Iraq in late 2019 in response to institutional corruption as a major cause of a low national standard of living and a chronic lack of public services.

Read More: Mass protests resume in Iraq to mark first anniversary

The movement, which was mostly concentrated in Shia-majority parts of the country, weakened throughout 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Editing by John J. Catherine