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Corruption sting nabs Iraqi deputy minister

  • Story Highlights
  • Integrity Commission says videotape shows Transport official taking $100,000 bribe
  • Sting is latest aimed at what many Iraqis say is rampant corruption in the country
  • Transport spokesman calls arrest a surprise, congratulates integrity panel's work
  • Integrity panel chief says Iraqi prime minister strongly backed operation
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's deputy minister of transport has been arrested after investigators taped him taking a $100,000 bribe, the Iraqi Integrity Commission said Monday.

It's the latest sting aimed at what many Iraqis say is rampant corruption in the country. The anti-corruption body said Monday this was the first time such a high-level Iraqi official was caught in the act of taking a bribe.

The announcement, made on the commission's Web site, said investigators detained Deputy Minister Adnan al-Obaidi last Wednesday.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Transport, Aqeel Kawthar, told CNN on Monday that the deputy minister took office August 10, and his arrest came as a surprise to the ministry. He said there were no indications that al-Obaidi might be corrupt before this incident, but he said the Ministry of Transport "supports and congratulates" the Integrity Commission's work.

A foreign security firm had approached the Integrity Commission alleging that al-Obaidi had asked for a bribe of $500,000 to renew the firm's contract, the commission said.

"The deputy minister was supposed to receive the full amount first, but the scenario was changed into him receiving $100,000 [in U.S. dollars] as a down payment, and the rest of the money would be delivered after the renewal of the contract," according to the commission's account.

"Orders were issued to security forces to deploy undercover in Karrada district" in central Baghdad. Video Watch more about Iraq's war against corruption »

The statement said the security forces did not know who the target was and their orders were in coordination with the Integrity Commission's operations room.

The commission said that five minutes before the arrest, the head of the commission, Judge Rahim al-Agili, informed Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that a high-ranking government official had taken a bribe.

The commission said al-Maliki responded by saying: "I do not want to know his name, carry out the operation even if the wanted individual is Nuri al-Maliki. ... Whether he is from the Dawa party, a Sadrist, or a member of ISCI [all Shiite political parties, including that of the prime minister], he is only known to me as a bribe taker ... "

The Integrity Commission said the sting was caught on videotape, which it said would be posted soon on its Web site.

"The arrest of of the deputy minister of transport was a professional operation with no political dimensions to it, and we have not heard any political or parliamentary bloc objecting to it ... " the commission's account said.

"The operation was carried out within 56 hours of continuous, nonstop, work. The head of the secret informant department and the men of the special operations branch [of the Integrity Commission] played a major role ... and the commission dedicated all its advanced capabilities to document and follow this."

According to the monitoring group Transparency International, Iraq is one of the top three most corrupt countries in the world, along with Somalia and Myanmar.

A recent report from the group said almost half the people it surveyed in Iraq had paid a bribe in the previous year. When CNN talked to people coming and going from Iraq's Interior Ministry, complaints were frequent.

"The employee inside said he will only finish my ID for an extra $40," one man said.

Another said, "You can't even talk to the janitor in a government office unless you're paying a bribe."

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Judge al-Agili told CNN his office is kept busiest by the Interior Ministry, but it is investigating 8,000 allegations of corruption against people through all departments and all levels of government.

Al-Agili said he believes corruption is part of Iraq's culture, stretching back long before Saddam Hussein's regime. But he said he believes it can be beaten slowly, and that's why he set up the undercover special operations unit to carry out sting operations.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh and Phil Black contributed to this report.

All About IraqTransparency InternationalNuri al-MalikiIraqi Interior Ministry

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