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Sun 5 Jun 2011 06:01 PM

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Iraq PM seeks arrest of missing bank chief

Iraqi prime minister orders probe into Trade Bank of Iraq, chairman has fled to Lebanon

Iraq PM seeks arrest of missing bank chief
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki ordered a probe after alleged violations were uncovered at TBI

Iraqi authorities have issued an arrest warrant for the head
of one of the nation's biggest banks, which is under investigation for alleged
irregularities, a government source and the bank's lawyer said on Sunday.

An Iraqi government source said Hussein Al Uzri, president
and chairman of the state-owned Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI), had fled to Lebanon.
He did not answer calls to his mobile phone.

Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki ordered a judicial inquiry
into TBI on Thursday, after a committee including officials from Iraq's
anti-corruption commission and audit authority reported "violations"
at the institution.

The move comes as Maliki faces growing discontent over
rampant corruption and poor public services in oil-exporting Iraq, which
prompted protests against his fragile coalition government earlier this year.

A British advisor to TBI's board said on Sunday that the
investigation was politically-motivated and that the bank had been resisting
government pressure to engage in "highly dubious and irregular"
operations.

Sir Claude Hankes said the investigation could damage Iraq's
ties with the international banking community. He said Uzri was
"safe" outside Iraq but was "not in Lebanon".

Set up in 2003, after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled
Saddam Hussein, TBI has developed a reputation as one of Iraq's most successful
financial institutions.

It is involved in financing food supplies and securing
private sector financing for power and other reconstruction projects.

A senior Iraqi government source said authorities had
information that Uzri had gone to Beirut.

"The judiciary issued an arrest warrant against those
people who could be detained on the basis of the evidence against them and one
of them is the chairman of the bank," the source said.

Tareq al-Maamouri, TBI's legal adviser, also confirmed the
arrest warrant against Uzri and said the bank chairman had been suspended from
his duties.

TBI, which has 14 branches across Iraq, reported total assets
of $15bn for 2010, a 16 percent increase over 2009. It reported in May an 18
percent increase in 2010 profits to $361m.

On Thursday, an Iraqi banking source said the violations at
TBI related to billions of dinars in "irrecoverable bad debts" owed
by Iraqi companies. Charges included poor administration and non-compliance
with banking regulations, the source said.

Hankes had described the probe as "political
skullduggery".

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