Monthly Spotlight: The Barzani Family’s Criminal Enterprise

File photo (Dahat Barzani/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Top stories from April

  • Diplomatic Courier: Foreign investment undermined by corruption risks in Iraqi KurdistanApril 10th, 2024: In an opinion piece published by the Diplomatic Courier, Dr. Joel Ruet argued that the Kurdistan Region in Iraq (KRI), once considered a promising investment destination, faces challenges such as budget shortfalls, economic crisis, and political discord. According to Dr. Ruet, despite Prime Minister Masrour Barzani’s Invest Kurdistan push to attract foreign investment, pervasive corruption and investor disputes hinder progress. The op-ed cites Sirwan Barzani’s company Korek refusing to pay a $1.65 billion damages award to French telecommunications company Orange and its joint venture partner Agility, and how Genel Energy is pushing for “substantial” compensation in arbitration proceedings against the KRG for failing to honor a major oil contract.
  • Rudaw: Human rights conditions worsened in Kurdistan Region, Iraq: US State Department reportApril 23rd, 2024: The human rights situation in Kurdistan has worsened over the past year, Rudaw has reported citing the US Department of State. In its annual country report on Iraq, the Department warned of “Kurdistan Regional Government restrictions on fundamental freedoms and civic space.” The concern comes following the filing of a lawsuit against members of the ruling Barzani family by the Kurdistan Victims Fund; they are accused of authorizing their agents to commit crimes including “extrajudicial killings, genocide, hostage taking and kidnapping, enforced disappearances, inhuman treatment, torture, rape, crimes against humanity, and multitudinous other unlawful and material acts”.
  • Intelligence Online: Strategic communication veterans behind lawsuit targeting Kurdish leaders for embezzlement and murderApril 23rd, 2024: The Barzani family’s lobbyists in Washington DC are “on their guard” amid the resumption of the Kurdistan Victims Fund’s (KVF) lawsuit, Paris-based Intelligence Online has reported. Intelligence Online reported that ArentFox Schiff, a prominent US lobbying firm, is involved in assisting the Barzani family.

The Barzani Family’s Criminal Enterprise

In January 2024, the Kurdistan Victims Fund, a U.S.-registered non-profit foundation established in 2023, filed a complaint against the Barzani family outlining damning allegations. The complaint examined the Barzanis’ involvement in illicit trade and trafficking, alleging that they “maintain secret Iranian permission and collaboration to smuggle contraband drugs, money, oil, weapons, and other goods and services”.

The complaint portrays Masrour, Nihad and Waysi Barzani as the architects of this criminal enterprise. They are accused of orchestrating a sprawling network involved in narcotic drug distribution. Masrour’s illicit oil trade is allegedly directed by Waysi to funnel proceeds into purchasing properties worldwide through shell companies and other concealed entities.

This is not the first time that the Barzanis’ involvement in illicit trade and trafficking has come to light. As early as 2006, a US Department of State cable, published by Wikileaks, revealed a pervasive culture of corruption within the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), with the Barzani clan at the epicenter of supposed illicit activities.

Another Department of State cable from 2007 suggested their involvement in arms trafficking, with Turkish authorities linking Masoud Barzani and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) to the trade.

Meanwhile in June 2022, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) published an investigation analyzing Iraqi tycoon Nizar Hanna Nasri’s ascent in Iraq’s illicit cigarette trade during the 1990s, and his partnerships with the Barzani family to smuggle billions of dollars of cigarettes into Turkey annually. Allegedly, a factory in Dohuk produced these cigarettes, which were then funneled through the Barzani family’s company and distributed to smugglers. The investigation also detailed financial ties between Nasri and KRG President Nechirvan Barzani.

Separately, Barzani Watch has received information from a source with knowledge of the family’s business interests that Sirwan Barzani, a Peshmerga military commander and owner of the Kurdish telecoms firm Korek, earns significant monthly kickbacks from human trafficking operations. Sirwan allegedly owns two residential towers in Erbil’s Lebanese Village. These serve as hubs for the commercial sexual exploitation of Iraqi and foreign trafficked women, according to the source.

Sirwan is also thought to collaborate with individuals linked to Iranian organized crime to smuggle drugs from Iran to Sulaymaniyah and Erbil, according to Iraqi sources. The drugs are then allegedly distributed through a network of individuals benefiting from their affiliation with Sirwan.

File photo (Ennolenze/CC BY-SA 4.0)

What to watch

  • The Iraqi High Electoral Commission has confirmed the suspension of preparations for Kurdistan’s parliamenatry elections amid “deepening political turmoil”, The New Arab has reported. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) had requested a delay, citing concerns over a federal court ruling that altered the electoral system.

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