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Last Updated: Monday, 18 December 2006, 18:59 GMT
Iraqi ex-minister in jail escape
Ayham al-Samarrai (file photo from 2003)
Samarrai was convicted last October
A former Iraqi cabinet minister has escaped from a prison in Baghdad where he was serving a two-year sentence for corruption, officials say.

Ex-Electricity Minister Ayham al-Samarrai was being held at a prison under joint US-Iraqi control in the heavily fortified Green Zone area.

Iraq's Public Integrity Commission said it was thought he fled with the help of members of a private security company.

It is the second time that Samarrai has escaped from custody.

The first was a few days after his conviction last October, when Iraqi officials caught him at Baghdad's airport with a Chinese passport.

Samarrai, a Sunni Arab who holds Iraqi and American citizenship, served in the interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi following the American-led invasion in 2003.

The former minister is believed to have had contacts with Sunni Arab insurgents, and has reportedly tried to persuade them to put down their weapons and join the political process.

US embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said it was aware of the reports of his escape and was looking into them.

"While he was incarcerated, we provided Mr Samarrai all normal consular services that we provide incarcerated Americans abroad," he said.

The Public Integrity Commission says arrest warrants have been issued for about 90 former officials, including 15 ministers, on charges of corruption.

Samarrai is believed to be the only official to have been convicted and imprisoned on such charges.




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