The acquittal in the ‘army fund case’ causes political upheaval in Kuwait and heightens tensions

Kuwait

Kuwait KuwaitThe acquittal on Tuesday of former Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak Al Sabah, former Interior and Defense Minister Sheikh Khaled al-Jarrah Al-Sabah, and seven other officials in the “Army Fund case” has shocked Kuwait, raising questions about the whereabouts of 240 million dinars ($790 million) allegedly embezzled from the fund.

According to Kuwaiti political and parliamentary sources, the court’s decision, which meant to put an end to one of the country’s most significant corruption cases in recent years, appears to be counterproductive. It has sparked significant criticism as well as a surge of skepticism. The judgment, according to the sources, would have a negative influence on the country’s current political conflict, which is now set to worsen.

The parliament’s rejection of the Emir of Kuwait’s implicit request for calm, Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, on Monday indicated rising tensions. During a debate on the Ukrainian situation, the emir encouraged MPs to avoid arbitrariness in interrogating cabinet members in a message sent through the speaker of parliament, Marzouq Al-Ghanim. Instead of responding to the emir’s summons, a large number of Kuwaiti legislators demanded a vote of no confidence in Minister of Public Works Ali Al-Mousa. The no-confidence vote was presented by ten MPs out of a total of 50 deputies the day following the emir’s plea for de-escalation, which observers believe will be interpreted as a sign of weakness.

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Kuwaiti political commentators saw the legislators’ action as another step toward escalating tensions in an already difficult scenario. They went on to say that interrogating successive government ministers was more about reflecting feuds and frictions inside the governing family than it was about improving cabinet performance or supervision. On Monday, Kuwait’s Court of Ministers acquitted all suspects in the “army fund case.” The former Undersecretary of the Ministry of Defence Jassar Al-Jassar, the military attaché in London Fahd Al-Baz, and the military attaché in Bahrain Ali Al-Asaker were among those exonerated, in addition to the former prime minister and ministers of interior and defense.

The court also acquitted Adel al-Enezi, the military attaché in Lebanon, Samir Marjan, the former army treasurer at the ministry of defense, Hamad Al-Banwan, and Wael Al-Fraih, the director of the defence minister’s office. The verdict, according to a judicial source who did not want to be identified because he is not authorized to communicate with the media, is final and cannot be appealed to any other court. Its arguments will be made public in the coming days. The former prime minister, interior minister, and defence minister were all sentenced to jail by the Court of Ministers in April, but were freed in October and January, respectively.

The allegations against former Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak Al Sabah and his partner, former Interior Minister Sheikh Khalid al-Jarrah Al Sabah, as well as other officials, stemmed from the misappropriation of $790 million from a military aid fund that went missing years ago. The court had placed the case under seal, and the public had no access to the evidence given at trial. Nonetheless, the case’s twists and turns over the last year have dominated local news and captivated most of the population, boosting expectations of a reckoning in the Gulf Arab state over pervasive government corruption that has long eroded public confidence.

Kuwait’s former defense minister called for an inquiry into the missing millions in the autumn of 2019, sparking the government’s demise when ministers refused to appear in parliament for questioning. Other scandals involving Kuwaiti officials, such as a conspiracy to steal billions of dollars from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, have further tarnished the country’s image. Kuwait’s court ordered Sheikh Jaber and Sheikh Khalid, two former ministers and members of the royal family, jailed pending trial in an unusual action last year.

The prosecution, however, failed to establish its case against the officials, and the ministerial court cleared them of all charges on Tuesday. The legal team for the defendants rejoiced at their client’s acquittal. The ruling was seen by many Kuwaitis as a predictable but disheartening illustration of their country’s sagging corruption prosecutions. On social media, activists argued the acquittal made a mockery of the government’s well-publicized anti-corruption campaign.

“We don’t know where the money taken from the army fund went, and many other billions are missing with it,” Bader al-Dahoum, a prominent Kuwaiti opposition member, tweeted. “However, I am confident that the corrupt and their sympathizers will be punished both in this life and in the next.” Kuwait’s raucous National Assembly has decided to call a special legislative session next Monday to reopen an investigation into the stolen military monies.

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