US troops and Iraqi police raided Chalabi’s home and office in Baghdad on Thursday, marking an ignominious fall from grace for the one-time exile who helped make the case against Saddam Hussein and was once touted by US officials as a possible Iraqi leader.
US officials had earlier said they cut off funding to Chalabi, a member of Iraq’s US-appointed Governing Council.
“Chalabi was sentenced in Jordan and he is wanted for the verdict to be carried out,” Jordanian government spokeswoman Asma Khadir told Reuters on Sunday. She did not say if Jordan was actively seeking the former banker’s extradition.
Chalabi was convicted by a Jordanian court in 1992 of embezzling millions from Petra Bank whose 1989 collapse shook Jordan’s political and financial system, forcing it to spend in excess of $400 million to bail out depositors.
Hard labour awaits
A sentence of 22 years hard labour awaits the man who was once one of Jordan’s most influential figures.
Chalabi, who fled the country as the scandal broke, denies wrongdoing and says the charges were politically motivated.
“Chalabi has the right to appeal the verdict which was issued in absentia. He can defend himself”
Jordanian authorities say they unravelled a web of gross irregularities at Petra Bank, which Chalabi founded and ran during a long residence in the country, involving the siphoning of depositors’ money to Chalabi’s offshore accounts.
A Jordanian member of parliament, who last year headed a parliamentary campaign demanding the government seek Chalabi’s extradition from Iraq, said he would renew the request.
“Last year, we called on the government to extradite Chalabi but we felt that the authorities refrained from entering into battles at the time,” Mahmud Kharabsha said.
Jordan has not sought to have Chalabi extradited because of legal and political concerns.
“Chalabi has the right to appeal the verdict which was issued in absentia. He can defend himself,” said Kharabsha, also a lawyer.
Chalabi says he was made a scapegoat for years of corruption and mismanagement in Jordan that triggered a currency collapse and precipitated an economic and political crisis in 1989.
He has accused Jordanian officials of framing him under pressure from Saddam. The ousted Iraqi regime’s financial dealings built fortunes for many Jordanians.
Meanwhile, Chalabi staunchly denied allegations that he passed sensitive US secrets to Iran. “I’ve never passed any classified information to Iran,” he told the Fox News Sunday television programme.
George Tenet: Central Intelligence
A US official said on Friday the United States is investigating evidence Chalabi gave sensitive information to Tehran. “This charge is false,” said Chalabi, who accused Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet of putting out the charges against him.
“I have never received a US classified document and I have never had a US classified briefing,” said Chalabi.
The Los Angeles Times, citing US officials, said on Sunday evidence indicated that Chalabi’s intelligence chief gave Iran’s intelligence ministry “highly classified information” on US operations in Iraq, including troop movements, top-secret communications and Coalition Provisional Authority plans.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Riza Asifi on Sunday said: “These espionage allegations are obviously lacking any foundations.” Chalabi said he met with Iranian officials “about a month and a half ago,” but denied giving Tehran classified information.
“I have never received a US classified document and I have never had a US classified briefing”
“We meet people from the Iranian embassy in Baghdad regularly as do all members of the (Iraqi) Governing Council,” he said.
On ABC television’s This Week, Chalabi called the accusation a “smear” and said he was prepared to challenge Tenet and the allegations against him before the US Congress.
“Let Mr Tenet come to Congress, and I am prepared to come there and lay out all the facts and all the documents that we have, and let Congress decide whether this is true or whether they are being misled by George Tenet,” he said.