Kuwait Lawmakers Move to Impeach Oil Minister

KUWAIT CITY Jun 25, 2007 (AP)

Kuwaiti lawmakers Monday requested that the oil minister be impeached, claiming he helped his cousin embezzle public money from a state-owned company more than a decade ago.

After grilling Sheik Ali Al Jarrah Al Sabah, a member of the ruling family, for several hours, the lawmakers moved to call for a vote of no-confidence against the minister.

Hundreds of Kuwaitis who filled Parliament's galleries stood up and cheered when the speaker, Jassem al-Kharafi, said at the end of a nine-hour session that lawmakers have requested an impeachment. The oil minister has denied any wrongdoing.

No date was set for the vote, but it is expected to be held in two weeks.

Governments of this small oil-rich constitutional emirate haven't been historically tolerant of parliament trying to dismiss cabinet ministers, especially when they are members of the ruling family. To avoid the public humiliation of being impeached, the minister could resign, the entire cabinet could resign or the Parliament could be dissolved.

Sheik Ali angered the house when he told the local Al-Qabas daily newspaper in an interview last month that his cousin, Sheik Ali Al Khalifa Al Sabah, was his "teacher" and he "sometimes consulted with him on oil matters." The cousin was accused of "making it possible" when he was oil minister for officials of the Kuwait Oil Tankers Co. to embezzle millions of Kuwaiti dinars from the company.

A Kuwaiti criminal court in 1996 sentenced three officials to up to 40 years in prison and ordered them to jointly repay $63 million - the amount they were convicted of illegally acquiring - plus an identical sum in fines. However, an appeals court later reversed the convictions because the court papers weren't dated.

The case against the former oil minister was also dropped on a technicality, after years of legal maneuvering in different local courts.

Lawmaker Adel al-Sarawi said Sheik Ali Al Jarrah Al Sabah used his influence when he was chief executive officer of Kuwait's Burgan Bank SAK (BURG.KW) to open accounts at the request of his cousin, in the names of paper companies so that they could be used for siphoning the stolen money.

The minister said the accounts were legally requested by company officials, he had nothing to do with them and he would have been officially charged if he did.

Legislator Abdullah al-Roumi claimed the minister intimidated a witness in the case, which is now being investigated by judges from a special tribunal for ministers. The minister swore he called the witness for a meeting to tell him to provide all the information he has in the case.

"Ali Al Jarrah facilitates matters for thieves," said lawmaker Mussallam al-Barrak, pointing a finger at the minister.

Al-Barrak told reporters after the session he was confident the house had the simple majority to impeach the oil minister.

The minister repeated an apology he had made for praising his cousin, but the lawmakers rejected it and said he has lost the confidence of the people.

Copyright (c) 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


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