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19 Mar, 2024 22:20

Ex-Iraqi defense chief arrested upon arrival in Sweden

Najah al-Shammari has been detained in Stockholm for allegedly claiming Swedish public benefits while living in Baghdad
Ex-Iraqi defense chief arrested upon arrival in Sweden

Former Iraqi Defense Minister Najah al-Shammari has been arrested in Stockholm for allegedly receiving taxpayer-funded benefits in Sweden while living and working in his native country.

Al-Shammari was detained by Swedish authorities upon arrival at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport on Monday. “He has been wanted for almost a year and a half,” public prosecutor Jens Nilsson told local broadcaster TV4 on Tuesday. “There is an arrest warrant in his absence.”

At issue are al-Shammari’s claims for housing and child benefits from Sweden that he was allegedly paid while working in Iraq. He served as Iraq’s defense minister in 2019 and 2020, having reportedly moved to Sweden with his wife in 2009 and obtained dual citizenship in 2015. He’s accused of having continued to claim Swedish benefits under a different surname for years after returning to Iraq.

Upon al-Shammari’s appointment as defense chief in 2019, the government of then-Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi denied media reports that the former major general had obtained Swedish citizenship. He retired from the Iraqi military in 2018, following a career that included a stint as commander of Baghdad’s Special Operations Forces.

Sweden is known for having some of the most generous asylum laws and social benefits in Europe, making it a top destination for Middle Eastern migrants. Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson has blamed Sweden’s previous governments for “irresponsible immigration policy and failed integration.” He has called for making it more difficult for migrants from outside Europe to receive welfare benefits.

Swedish prosecutors said in November 2019 that an Iraqi government minister – whom media outlets identified as al-Shammari – was being investigated for alleged “crimes against humanity.” That probe ended without charges being filed.