BAGHDAD: Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi’s defence team walked out of his trial Sunday after a judge refused to accept their evidence, as witnesses testified he gave them money to kill Iraqi soldiers and policemen.
Hashemi, last known to be in Turkey, is the subject of an Interpol red notice calling for his arrest, but he says he fears for his life in Baghdad. He is being tried in absentia on charges of running a death squad, which he says are politically motivated.
The senior Sunni official’s lawyers tried to submit his travel records as evidence he could not have coordinated violent attacks because he was not in Iraq at the times witnesses claimed, but the judge in the case said he would still have been able to do so from overseas, an AFP reporter in the court said.
Shortly thereafter, Hashemi’s legal team left the court.
“We decided to withdraw from the case as the appeals commission did not review the appeals we presented to it,” Muayad al-Izzi, the head of Hashemi's defence team, told reporters, referring to their attempts to have the case heard in a special tribunal rather than the Central Criminal Court of Iraq.
The CCCI, which held the fourth hearing on the case on Sunday, responded by appointing two new lawyers to replace those who withdrew.
Hashemi had said in a May 17 statement on his website that he was considering withdrawing his lawyers due to “legal violations.” These included the trial not being transferred to another venue and Hashemi’s lawyers not being permitted to meet with accused members of his staff or witnesses individually, the statement said.
Also on Sunday, witnesses, including a tribal leader, testified that they were offered money and pressured by Hashemi in return for targeting policemen and soldiers.
“Hashemi presented me with financial support in return for carrying out armed operations,” said Khidhr Ibrahim al-Mashhadani, a tribal leader from north of Baghdad who claimed he was paid a salary of $12,500 per month for his efforts. “The operations targeted only the security forces.”
Another witness, Raad Ismail Ibrahim al-Janabi, said: “Hashemi told me, ‘I want you to carry out special operations. The country needs you, you will carry out military duties against insurgents, and if you don’t implement the orders, there will be penalties’.”
Janabi, identified as one of Hashemi’s bodyguards, said he planted roadside bombs targeting government vehicles.
The next hearing in the trial was scheduled for May 31.
Hashemi, one of Iraq’s top Sunni Arab officials, was accused in December of running a death squad and, along with his staff and bodyguards, faces around 150 charges.
The accusations were first levelled after US troops completed their withdrawal, during a political crisis in which his bloc boycotted the cabinet and parliament, accusing Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of monopolising power.
After the initial charges were filed, the vice president fled to the autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, whose authorities declined to hand him over to the central government.
They then allowed him to leave on a tour of the region that has taken him to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and now Turkey. Ankara has said it will not extradite him to Iraq.