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Sat 2 Jul 2005 04:00 AM

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Iraq reconstruction probe will implicate US official

Over 800 cases of potential wrongdoing already lodged with reconstruction fraud watchdogs

The special auditor investigating the Iraqi rebuilding effort has given US federal prosecutors information on three potential cases of criminal wrongdoing in Iraq, including the first direct accusation involving a US government official there.

Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, declined to detail the cases or the identities of the officials facing allegations.

But he did say that the incidents involved alleged fraud and embezzlement of Iraqi funds entrusted to American management in a US government outpost in the south-central Iraqi city of Hillah. It marks the first time a government official has been implicated in reconstruction-related abuses, in which several private sector contractors have already been named.

The investigation is thought to involve a case identified in an earlier audit where two US contracting officials left the country with no record of how they had disbursed around US $1.5 million.

The revelations emerged from a congressional hearing this week into the US management of Iraqi funds after the 2003 invasion of the country.

He said: “In the broadest terms, this was a story of auditors and investigators working well together in Hillah — auditors bringing to my attention indicators of potential fraud and the deployment of investigators down that money trail.”Allegations of widespread construction-related corruption in Iraq include sweetheart deals on leases and payments for building work that was never actually done.

Since it was established last July, the office that is now called the Commission on Public Integrity has investigated more than 800 cases of potential wrongdoing, producing 399 investigations, many of which are still open. So far, arrest warrants have been issued for 44 Iraqi government employees.

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