Iraq official charges 17.5 billion dollars missing in oil revenues

Iraq official charges 17.5 billion dollars missing in oil revenues

An Iraq official who heads a committee that oversees Iraq's finances and oil revenues vowed Thursday that he would find 17.5 billion dollars missing from oil revenues, dpa reported.

Abdul Basit Saeed, Chairman of the Iraqi Committee of Financial Experts (COFE), made the charges at a press conference held in Amman. The location was chosen for security reasons.

His comments came during the official announcement that COFE had formally taken over oversight of Iraqi oil revenues from the International Advisory and Monitoring Board (IAMB).

A final report was also issued by IAMB, an international group set up after 2003 to handle oil exports, mostly for development of Iraq, because Baghdad didn't have a government in the years after the US invasion.

Saeed, who also doubles as President of Iraq's Board of Supreme Audit, said that a ministerial committee was set up recently by the Iraqi government to trace the missing funds.

The IAMB report noted that without a reliable oil metering system, the lack of which had often been criticized by IAMB, it was impossible to ensure that all oil revenues had been used for public benefit.

IAMB supervised the flow of Iraqi revenues estimated at 250 billion dollars, according to UN Assistant Secretary General Jun Yamazaki.

"Today we conclude our work and are honoured to issue a final report and hand over our responsibilities to COFE," said Yamazaki, who also doubled as IAMB's controller.

Yamazaki and other IAMB officials said it was not their responsibility to monitor the efficiency of spending by Iraqi ministries, and would not comment on the missing 17.5 billion dollars. They said that was the responsibility of external auditors appointed for this purpose.

Their report said it was not possible to ensure full transparency as to the spending of a part of Iraq revenues.

"The lack of an effective system of oil metering had been consistently highlighted by the IAMB as the main obstacle to the measurement and control over Iraq's oil revenues," the report said.

"It is not possible to determine that all Iraqi oil resources during the period since IAMB inception had been used for the benefit of the Iraqi people," it added.

The UN panel acknowledged that many challenges remained ahead and urged COPE to be "vigilant and proactive to maintain the momentum of reforms going forward".

"It is a historical day when the Iraqis take up sovereignty over their finances," said Saeed.

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