Ex-minister tied to graft escapes in Iraq
Guards aid flight from police station
BAGHDAD -- Private guards in sport utility vehicles helped Iraq's former electricity minister, Ayham al-Samaraie, escape from a police station just outside the heavily fortified Green Zone where he was being held on corruption charges, officials said yesterday.
Samaraie, who had escaped once before after being convicted in October, walked out of the detention facility Sunday with private security specialists who once protected him, said Faris Kareem, deputy head of Iraq's Public Integrity Commission.
Kareem said the security agents were "foreign," but provided no further details.
It was the second high-profile escape in Iraq this month. On Dec. 9, Ayman Sabawi, a nephew of Saddam Hussein who is serving a life sentence for bomb-making, escaped from a prison in northern Iraq, aided by a police officer, authorities said.
Discussing the latest escape, Ali al-Shabout, a spokesman for the anticorruption commission, said officers at the Karadat Mariam police station had allowed men who appeared to be security guards into the building. The officers realized later that Samaraie had left with the agents, he said.
Lou Fintor, a spokesman for the US Embassy, which is in the Green Zone, said US officials had been in touch with Samaraie in prison to provide basic consular services for the official, who holds dual Iraqi and US citizenship.
"There are conflicting reports surrounding his disappearance," Fintor said. "We cannot comment further until the facts are determined. We are coordinating with the Iraqi government, which is currently conducting an investigation into this matter."
Kareem said Samaraie had been convicted of corruption and had been sentenced to two years in prison for ordering the purchase of a $750,000 generator for the town of Kut, southeast of Baghdad, even though he had received a report that the equipment was broken.
A judge threw out the conviction on appeal several days ago, but Samaraie had been scheduled to appear in court yesterday, Kareem said.
He still faces trial on 12 other counts of corruption. The charges concern an estimated $2 billion in missing funds for contracts on rebuilding Iraq's electrical infrastructure.
Samaraie is the only Iraqi official to have been jailed on corruption charges, although arrest warrants have been issued for about 90 former officials, according to the anticorruption commission.
In violence yesterday, a car bomb killed five people and wounded at least 19 near a vegetable market in the southern Sunni area of Sadiya.
Police said they had found 44 bodies across the capital, some of them showing signs of torture.
The US military announced the deaths of three US military personnel, raising to 60 the number of Americans killed in December.
One soldier died when a Bradley vehicle rolled over north of Baghdad yesterday, and a Marine and a soldier died of combat wounds Friday and Saturday.