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 Iraqi Kurdistan's Border with Turkey Revenue Scandal

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Iraqi Kurdistan's Border with Turkey Revenue Scandal  1.12.2011  

December 1, 2011

ERBIL-Hewlêr, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — Allegations that revenue from Ibrahim Khalil, the lucrative border crossing between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey, was funnelled to a Kurdish leader instead of the government has set off a firestorm in the region.

Every day, thousands of tons of items and hundreds of small and large vehicles cross Ibrahim Khalil, one of the most important revenue generators for the region.

According to a 2011 budget report, the total customs revenue of Iraqi Kurdistan is around US$350 million and is mostly generated from the borders.

In an interview with the Kurdish satellite channel Naliya last month, Sayid Akram, former director of the Ibrahim Khalil security department from 2000-2006, claimed that none of the customs revenue was given to the treasury of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) but was instead taken to the office of the then-regional Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani.

Barzani is currently the deputy of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and is considered the favorite to become the region’s prime minister next year.

The Ibrahim Khalil trade center filed a lawsuit against Akram after the allegations were made, and Akram was sent to prison in the border town of Zakho. He was released after activists campaigned for his freedom.                 

Ibrahim Khalil  [Habur]  the lucrative border crossing between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey. Nechirvan barzani (Photo), KDP leader and Former Kurdistan PM.
Following Akram’s interview, 50 members of the KRG’s Parliament signed a petition demanding transparent accounting of the revenue generated from Ibrahim Khalil.

Dilshad Shahab, a KDP MP senior party official, said, “Akram was a security official; he wasn’t in finance. Even if what he said is true, why did he keep quiet all those years? Covering up a crime is a crime.”

“As a member of the KDP, I support the investigation into the customs revenue at Ibrahim Khalil,” Shahab said. “This should be done regularly on a directive by Parliament, especially when discussing the national budget.”

Samir Saleem, an MP from the opposition Kurdistan Islamic Union, said Akram’s statements motivated them to sign the petition.

“When an official from an apparatus as important as security makes these claims about the revenues at the border crossing, it leaves us no choice but to investigate the matter. Therefore we have requested that a committee follow up to investigate the customs revenue.”

Bashir Khalil, a KDP MP in Parliament, signed the petition. He said the revenue of all of Kurdistan’s border points must also be investigated.

“It will raise some questions for us if the investigation is only for Ibrahih Khalil customs,” said Khalil.

Among the 50 MPs who signed the petition, 11 are members of the Kurdistani Bloc, an alliance of the KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

“We are worried that some members of our bloc have signed the petition. We could have first discussed this step within our bloc,” Shahab said. “They did not have to sign the petition, because we as the majority can pass anything in the Parliament after we agree on it.”

Goran Azad, another MP from the Kurdistani bloc, said he signed the petition because he wanted the truth about the claims of the former security chief made public.

“It’s important for Parliament to find out the truth about the claims of the former security official who spent many years at that border gate,” Azad said. “This requires an investigation and Parliament should have a say in the matter if the claims are true. If they are false, then we will announce to the public that they were mere accusations. However, if Parliament refuses to form this committee, we will have a different position.”

Shahab believes that forming an investigative committee based on allegations is wrong.

“Parliament can hold its own investigations in certain cases, but it is unimaginable to see Parliamentarians forming an investigative committee based on an allegation made by an official who isn’t a (financial) specialist. I can’t believe the Kurdish Parliament would make such a mistake,” said Shahab.

Rasheed Tahir, chief of staff of the KRG Ministry of Finance, said, “Those who want to know what happens to the customs revenue from the Ibrahim Khalil border should visit the Customs Directorate of Ibrahim Khalil and the Ministry of Finance. All of the customs receipts are available and not a single Iraqi dinar has been stolen. All of the revenue goes to the KRG Treasury.”

Regarding the creation of a committee to investigate the revenue, Tahir said, “A committee from the Iraqi government’s Ministry of Finance in Baghdad has seen our work. This committee came to investigate the revenue at Ibrahim Khalil gate and other revenue from the Kurdistan region. According to the report of that committee, the best-organized border crossing in Iraq is Ibahim Khalil. Therefore, we are ready to lay all our customs receipts out in front of any official committee once it is formed.”

For decades, the KDP of regional president Massoud Barzani and the PUK of Iraq's President Jalal Talabani have lorded over the region.

Massoud Barzani and his relatives control a large number of commercial enterprises in Kurdistan-Iraq, with a gross value of several billion US dollars. The family is routinely accused of corruption and nepotism by Kurdish media as well as international observers.

Iraq's Kurdish regional government has near total autonomy and is funded by a share of the country's oil revenue. The two parties that share power each command former guerrilla militias that have been given the status of regional security forces.

An example is Korek company, owned by a nephew of Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), was established in 2001 in the region and has 3 million customers, while Kuwait's Zain started operations in the zone last October.

All three firms secured $1.25 billion licenses each to operate in Iraq in 2007.

Rudaw part reported by Hevidar Ahmed

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