Anyone who watched the Iraq invasion on TV might remember footage of Iraqis looting the nation’s cultural institutions and shopping centres.

Now another case of grand theft has emerged from Iraq, and this time it’s government officials who have taken advantage of the lack of official oversight. In the period leading up to the 2005 elections, $US800 million “meant to equip the Iraqi army had been stolen from the government by former officials through fraudulent arms deals,” Iraq’s former finance minister Ali Allawi has told CBS’s 60 Minutes.

According to Allawi, about half the money was wasted on outdated equipment, while the other half was stolen by the high-ranking officials who were running Iraq’s Ministry of Defence. Allawi is reported as saying: “The only explanation I can come up with is that too many people in positions of power and authority in the new Iraq have been, in one way or another, found with their hands inside the cookie jar.”

Although Allawi did not name names, an AP report revealed investigators were “looking into several deals engineered by a former procurement officer, Ziad Tariq Cattan, and other Iraqi officials, including a former defense minister, Hazem Shaalan.” Cattan, “who was recently convicted in absentia in Iraq for squandering public funds”, was interviewed for the 60 Minutes story and claimed he was not guilty of any wrongdoing.

Though Allawi has spoken out, the chances of getting the accused into a courtroom to face charges look slim. The BBC reports that arrest warrants for a number of officials have been issued by the head of the Iraqi Commission on Public Integrity, Judge Radhi al-Radhi, but most have since fled the country.