Former Iraqi defense minister arrested in Sweden, accused of falsely claiming benefits

FILE - Iraqi Defense Minister Najah al-Shammari speaks to journalists after his meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, in Baghdad, Iraq, on Oct. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)
By Thomas Brooke
2 Min Read

Iraq’s former defense minister has been arrested by Swedish police on suspicion of illegally claiming social welfare benefits in Sweden for years despite living in Baghdad.

Najah al-Shammari, who holds dual Iraqi-Swedish citizenship, was detained by authorities at Stockholm Arlanda Airport on Monday as he returned to the country after a considerable absence, according to public prosecutor Jens Nilsson.

“He has been wanted for almost a year and a half,” Nilsson told Swedish broadcaster SVT.

“There are two different types of grants it is suspected he received on incorrect grounds,” he added. These are understood to be child and housing benefits, at a time when he was not living in the country.

Al-Shammari, 57, was Iraq’s defense minister from 2019 to 2020 and was previously an officer and general in the Iraqi army.

He migrated to Sweden back in 2009 and was granted a residence permit. He subsequently applied for naturalization in 2015 and became a Swedish citizen.

Under a different name, Al-Shammari was registered along with his family as living in the Stockholm area since 2012; he had received several welfare benefits but had been living back in Baghdad for much of this time.

An investigation in 2019 raised suspicions about the legitimacy of his benefits claims, and in 2023 he told the Swedish Tax Agency he had returned to Sweden following his time in public office.

“He was questioned by the police today,” Nilsson told SVT. “I will look into the case and make a decision if there is something to go forward with or if it should be dropped. Some of the acts are time-barred, but the majority are not.”

Al-Shammari was released later on Monday pending further investigation.

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