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Iraq accuses top central bank figure of financial crimes

Charges against economist are called political

BAGHDAD — Iraqi authorities have issued arrest warrants for the longtime governor of the central bank following allegations of financial wrongdoing, the country’s judiciary said Thursday.

The allegations against Sinan al-Shabibi, who has led the bank since 2003, surfaced earlier this week while he was out of the country on official business. The charges are seen by government critics as an attempt to sideline the politically independent economist, and have been blasted as politically motivated by Shabibi’s defense team.

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Supreme Judicial Council spokesman Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar said that 15 bank officials are being sought along with Shabibi. He did not name the other officials or say what specific charges they face. Bayrkdar did not say when the warrants were issued.

Repeated efforts to contact the Ministry of Interior, which is responsible for carrying out the arrests, were unsuccessful.

Lawyer Waleed Mohammed al-Shabibi, a relative of the bank governor who is on his legal team, said he is not aware of any arrest warrants and does not know what charges they include.

The attorney earlier this week criticized the allegations as politically motivated. The government denies the charge.

In 2011, Iraq’s Supreme Court ruled that the central bank and other previously independent bodies should be put under supervision of the Cabinet rather than parliament because their rulings are executive in nature.

The decision was widely criticized as putting the nonpartisan nature of these bodies at risk. Among the critics was Shabibi himself, who considered it a threat to the country’s assets abroad.

‘‘Even if concerns that the move against Shabibi is politically motivated prove unfounded, Maliki’s opponents will be wary that the prime minister could seize the opportunity to exert greater control over the [central bank],’’ said Jamie Ingram, a Middle East analyst at IHS Global Insight in London.

The charges were raised by a special parliamentary panel formed to investigate the bank. They surfaced while Shabibi was at an International Monetary Fund meeting in Tokyo. He is now believed to be in Europe, where it might be hard for the government to arrest him.

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