Iraqi court drops charges against parliament speaker

BAGHDAD (AP) " A Baghdad court dropped corruption charges against Iraq's parliament speaker on Tuesday, citing insufficient evidence to support accusations first raised by the country's defense minister during a questioning in parliament.

During last week's session, Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi told lawmakers that the speaker, Salim al-Jabouri, four sitting lawmakers, one former lawmaker and two parliamentary officials affiliated with the speaker had tried to persuade him to secure specific contracts and to reinstate employees fired due to corruption.

Al-Obeidi said the parliament speaker promised him "a political future" if he cooperated. He said that one lawmaker tried to push him to sign several high-value deals with specific companies, including a $1billion catering contract, a $2.8 billion deal for armored vehicles and a $421 million deal for Humvees.

All have denied the accusations and asked for an investigation. Since then, a travel ban was placed on the accused and an official investigation has been launched.

Iraq's Higher Judicial Council said in a statement that the court dropped the charges for lack of evidence and closed the case against the speaker.

It didn't mention the others who were accused by al-Obeidi.

The ruling came hours after a parliament vote to strip al-Jabouri of immunity, paving the way for an investigation, according to Shiite lawmaker, Ahmed al-Badri.

Al-Jabouri asked for the vote so that he could defend himself against the charges. The same measure was approved for two other Sunni lawmakers, al-Badri added.

Iraq has witnessed rising public anger against the political elite and endemic corruption. The corruption accusations have also deepened divisions inside the biggest Sunni parliamentary bloc.

The government has faced growing anti-government protests demanding reforms. Earlier this year, protesters stormed Baghdad's highly fortified Green Zone twice in the space of a month.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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