- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 26, 2006

AMMAN, Jordan — A former Iraqi Cabinet minister who escaped from a Baghdad prison this month has arrived in Jordan, according to the country’s prime minister who said yesterday that the fugitive arrived on a U.S. plane.

Ayham al-Samaraie, a former minister of electricity with dual U.S. and Iraqi citizenship, had been serving time for corruption when he escaped in mid-December.

Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit told reporters yesterday that al-Samaraie “arrived in Amman as an American and on an American plane,” an apparent reference to a U.S. military plane. He did not elaborate on the former official’s escape.

“Jordan did not receive any demand from the Iraqi authorities” for al-Samaraie’s extradition, Mr. al-Bakhit said.

Lou Fintor, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said the U.S. government was not involved in al-Samaraie’s escape. He denied in “unequivocal terms” that al-Samaraie flew out of Iraq on an American plane.

“There is absolutely no truth to this,” Mr. Fintor said. “This is absolutely incorrect, absolutely false.”

Mr. Fintor said the United States was supporting the Iraqi government’s investigation into al-Samaraie’s escape. He declined to say whether al-Samaraie, who has a home in the Chicago area, would be allowed to return to the United States.

In 2003, al-Samaraie became a member of the transitional Iraqi government that was set up after U.S.-led forces overthrew Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. He was detained in August, convicted of corruption and sentenced to two years imprisonment. The charges concerned an estimated $2 billion in missing funds for contracts on rebuilding Iraq’s electrical infrastructure.

On Dec. 19, al-Samaraie called the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times and said a “multinational” group had helped him escape from a police station inside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone. He gloated about the escape, saying he got away “the Chicago way” — a reference to the 1987 film about Al Capone called “The Untouchables.”

Al-Samaraie told the Times that he left Iraq on a flight from Baghdad International Airport. He said it had been easy to board a plane, saying “any Iraqi can do it.”

He also derided Iraqi and U.S. officials in the interview.

“Those suckers who are sitting in the Green Zone, they cannot go out and see the people they are governing?” he was quoted as saying. “This is a joke.”

It was al-Samaraie’s second escape from Iraqi custody. He also managed to flee a few days after his October conviction, when Iraqi officials caught him at the Baghdad airport with a Chinese passport.

Al-Samaraie told the Tribune in the phone interview that he plans to return to Chicago after the new year. He came to the city 30 years ago and was a partner in a suburban engineering firm before taking the position in the Iraqi government.

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