Lawyers for fugitive Iraqi VP quit case in protest

AP News

5/20/2012 11:42:57 AM - AP News

Lawyers for Iraq's fugitive Sunni vice president charged with running death squads quit the case on Sunday in protest after judges rejected their request for evidence for his defense.

The development underscored Tariq al-Hashemi's claim that he will not get a fair trial on the charges he denies and says are politically motivated.

The case threatens to paralyze Iraq's government by fueling simmering Sunni and Kurdish resentments against the Shiite prime minister, who critics claim is monopolizing power.

"It became clear that there is a hidden political decision to incriminate me," al-Hashemi said in a statement after the court adjourned Sunday afternoon. "The judge became my adversary."

He said his "basic rights and guarantees of the defendants" have been violated.

At the outset of the trial's second day, al-Hashemi's defense team demanded to be allowed to pull his phone records and appointment calendars to help refute earlier testimony that the vice president and his son-in-law had ordered bodyguards to kill security and government officials. Their aim was to prove that al-Hashemi, one of Iraq's highest-ranking Sunni officials in the Shiite-led government, had either been out of the country or not in communication with the bodyguards at the time he allegedly ordered the assassinations.

But a three-judge panel rejected the request, and ruled that last week's testimony by three bodyguards who swore they were given money to kill al-Hashemi's enemies was strong enough to negate any further evidence.

The judges also said al-Hashemi could have arranged for the attacks while he was outside the country.

With that, al-Hashemi lawyer Muayad Obeid al-Ezzi and the rest of the defense team walked out.

"We do not want to be part of this unfair trial," al-Ezzi said over the telephone after leaving the courtroom. He said he would return if the evidence is allowed and the judges agree to transfer the case to a special tribunal appointed by parliament.

Last week, three of al-Hashemi's former bodyguards testified that they were ordered and paid to kill security officials and plant roadside bombs. They said the orders either came from al-Hashemi's son-in-law, who worked as his office manager, or from the vice president himself.

Three more bodyguards, three relatives of victims and a tribal sheik were among the witnesses called Sunday to testify against al-Hashemi.

Dressed in traditional robes, tribal leader Sheik Khuder Ibrahim Hassan said he was paid up to 105 million Iraqi dinars (about $90,000) to carry out bombings against Iraqi police and army forces between 2009 and 2011 in Tarmiyah, 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Baghdad.

He said each attack was filmed and copies were sent to al-Hashemi, and that he was paid once directly by the vice president. Six other payments came from al-Hashemi's aides, Hassan said.

"He used to say that Sunnis were marginalized, faced arrests and suffered from unemployment and these operations would help them," said Hassan in nearly an hour of testimony.

Hassan and all the bodyguards who have testified in the trial so far are facing murder charges for killings that allegedly have been linked to al-Hashemi, who could face the death penalty if convicted. Judges on Sunday appointed two new lawyers for al-Hashemi and his son-in-law, and the next hearing is set for May 31.

The case has strained relations between Iraq and several of its mainly Sunni neighbors, including the Gulf states and Turkey where al-Hashemi took refuge. On Sunday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan maintained he has no intention of extraditing al-Hashemi to Iraq.

"Until the day that the Iraqi vice president, who is our friend and brother, desires to return, he will be hosted in our country," Erdogan told reporters.

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Associated Press Writers Sameer N. Yacoub, Mazin Yahya and Lara Jakes contributed to this report.