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Monday, August 9, 2004

Salem Chalabi: Fears For His Life

Salem Chalabi, head of the tribunal trying Saddam Hussein, tells us that the charges against him are "ridiculous". Hear the interview.

A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Salem Chalabi, the man heading up the tribunal trying the former Iraqi leader. It claims he is suspected of involvement in the murder of a senior Iraqi civil servant early in the summer.

But speaking to Ed Stourton in our London studio, Mr Chalabi (the nephew of former Washington favourite Ahmed Chalabi, who's also had a warrant issued for his arrest) rejected the allegations.

"The charges are ridiculous," he insisted. "The charge supposedly is that I made a threat to this Ministry of Finance official who was investigating properties belonging to me. A few days later he complained to his wife that he was threatened by a number of people, not only me, but a number of other people on other things and then he was killed."

"I have no recollection of ever meeting this person," he continued. "I definitely have not visited him, as the allegation was, in his office. In fact on the day that I supposedly went to his office, there are minutes of the Governing Council where I was sitting in, and my name was minuted."

Salem Chalabi told Today he hopes to return to Iraq, but that he's in the process of trying to seek assurances that he wont be thrown in jail, which he says would put his life in danger.

"I'm in the middle of negotiations to try to work this out," he revealed. "The Prime Minister is directly involved, as is the President of Iraq. They've both given me assurances that this is something that they'll try to work out relatively quickly."

Outlining attempts within recent days to shell a property he uses in Baghdad, he explained to Ed that the large number of Baathist prisoners currently in Iraq's penal system is the reason he fears for his safety if incarcerated on his return.

Mr Chalabi also hinted that, whilst the decision doesn't lie with him, it is possible Saddam Hussein could face execution if found guilty of the crimes he's accused of. It follows the reintroduction of the death penalty by the country’s interim Government.

"I imagine if (Saddam Hussein) is convicted of some of the crimes and the charges against him by a judge following a fair trial and so on, I would imagine they would try to institute (the death penalty)."

Listen to the interview here. Hear also the British Government's special representative on human rights in Iraq, Ann Clwyd, on why she wants the death penalty there to be scrapped.

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