Iraq’s federal court has temporarily suspended Hoshyar Zebari’s presidential bid citing corruption allegations against the former foreign minister a day before parliament was due to vote on the position.
The Supreme Court said on Sunday it had received a complaint from MPs that Zebari’s candidacy was “unconstitutional” because of the corruption claims dating back to 2016, adding that his suspension was “temporary” while the court considers the case.
Zebari, 68, is one of two main contenders for the largely ceremonial post, which the 329-member parliament was to vote for on Monday.
The other favoured candidate is the incumbent Barham Saleh.
Iraq’s highest court said the complainants consider that Zebari does not fulfill constitutional requirements that the head of state must have “a good reputation and integrity”.
The court cited his 2016 dismissal from the post of finance minister by parliament “over charges linked to financial and administrative corruption”.
Public funds worth $1.8m were allegedly diverted to pay for airline tickets for his personal security detail.
The complaint also cited at least two other judicial cases linked to him, including when he was the country’s longtime foreign minister after the fall of leader Saddam Hussein in the 2003 US-led invasion.
Zebari has always denied all corruption accusations.
The court’s decision is the latest chapter in Iraq’s turbulent and divisive politics.
The scheduled presidential vote follows October legislative elections marred by record-low turnout, post-election threats and violence, and a delay until final results were confirmed in late December.
The largest bloc in the Iraqi parliament now, led by powerful Shia religious leader Moqtada Sadr, announced on Saturday a boycott of Monday’s parliamentary session to elect the new president.
The bloc’s parliamentary chief, Hassan al-Izari, told a news conference they will not attend, making a vote less likely although technically a quorum could be reached.
The presidency, with a four-year mandate, is by a convention held by a member of Iraq’s Kurdish minority. Zebari is the candidate of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
Zebari hails from a major Kurdish tribe and fought as a Kurdish Peshmerga against Saddam’s government.
After Saddam’s overthrow he served an unbroken 2003-2014 term as foreign minister before taking up the finance portfolio from which he was sacked.
“I have not been convicted in any court,” Zebari said in a television interview on Friday night as the charges resurfaced alongside forecasts he would unseat Saleh, the candidate of KDP’s rival in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).