Kuwait's top court sentenced several judges to seven years in prison in a case that has sent shockwaves through the nation as the country has been rocked by a high-stakes judicial scandal involving the bribery of judges, lawyers, court clerks, banks, financial institutions, and government officials.
The Court of Cassation, the highest level of litigation in Kuwait, gave a final verdict on the corruption case that has raised serious concerns about the integrity of the country's judicial system.
The development highlights the complexity of corruption within Kuwait, where judges and court advocates enjoy immunity, making it challenging to bring them to trial.
The final verdict on the case was given on Oct. 19 as seven judges were sentenced to seven years in prison each, as part of an effort to correct the system's corruption.
The court also acquitted one judge and handed down sentences of 12 years each to two businessmen, in addition to imprisoning a lawyer for 10 years and a head of the court clerk department for seven years.
Furthermore, it refrained from punishing a lawyer and three court employees while upholding the innocence of a former court official.
Last October, the appeals court had issued its verdict to jail and dismiss seven judges and ordered them to return expensive cars, jewelry and gifts they received from an Iranian defendant in the money laundering and corruption case.
The case's history goes back to 2020 when the public prosecution discovered money laundering and corruption with 10 judges in a case related to Fouad Salehi, a resident in Kuwait of Iranian descent. This revelation led to the referral of multiple individuals to trial, including judges, lawyers, and court clerks, along with Salehi and 15 others.
The Kuwaiti authorities have been alarmed by the increasing number of corruption cases, their intricate nature, and their cross-border implications.
The referral of the eight judges came after their immunity was lifted, and after the judges and clerks had helped millions of dollars of litigation to vanish.
Some of these corrupt judges and clerks were secretly employed by influential businessmen, financial institutions, and banks to thwart and hinder court rulings or arbitration panels, especially those involving international or foreign companies.
Companies such as the German Mercedes-Benz, formerly Daimler AG, and the U.S.-based Caterpillar Inc and major international franchise companies in different fields stopped the enforcement of court judgments.
The seven judges who were part of the corrupt deep state network in Kuwait are seen as part of an organized crime group that operated based on financial incentives.
Over 3,000 files have been seized from various banks like the National Bank of Kuwait, Ahli United Bank, Gulf Bank and Kuwait Finance House as evidence of their involvement in money laundering and bribery.
The case not only affected commercial and financial disputes but also threatened the freedom of individuals. The Ministry of Justice expects that over 1,800 cases, both civil and criminal, may have been tainted by these corrupt judges and will need to be reviewed or compensated. A committee is due to be formed to start reviewing the cases that were trialed by the convicted judges.
The Kuwaiti government has been cracking down hard on corruption and money laundering with this case being the fourth major such case in recent years.
In 2015, reports had revealed the $4 billion 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal, often referred to as the 1MDB scandal, which was a corruption, bribery and money laundering conspiracy in which the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB was systematically embezzled, with assets diverted globally by the perpetrators of the scheme.
In the 1MDB case, the money-laundering operation extended from Kuwaiti banks such Gulf Bank, Ahli United Bank, Kuwait Finance House to China-based ICBC and back to Malaysia. It was noted that more than 50% of the 1MBD scandal got routed through Kuwait's financial system.
The other cases have included the 7-year imprisonment of Mohammad Shahid Islam, a Bangladeshi businessman and member of the Bangladeshi parliament who was jailed in Kuwait in 2021 for charges of human trafficking, money laundering and bribing. A human trafficking network led by Islam was active in bringing expatriates to Kuwait and granting them residency in the country illegally with figures involved in scheme reaching more than $180 million.
The other high profile case was the Kuwaiti government's lawsuit against former Minister of Defense and Interior Khaled al-Jarrah in 2022, filed in the United States Supreme Court in order to recover funds that had been embezzled from the Army Fund and used to buy real estate in the U.S.
The last but not least of the corruption and money laundering cases has been the referral of the Kuwait Investment Office (KIO), the London branch of Kuwait's sovereign wealth fund, to the public prosecutor in October over alleged "violations."
The referral followed an internal investigation committee report on "observations and violations" between 2018 and 2022. The alleged KIO violations included "illegal entry, disclosure of confidential information, and destruction of information related to the (Kuwait Investment) Authority, in addition to many other violations."
The highest profile defendant in the corrupt judges case is the son of former Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah who was also tried in a separate corruption case and was acquitted in 2022.
The Kuwaiti government's strong stance against corruption has been reflecting the commitment of Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the Emir of Kuwait, to hold all officials accountable.
The situation is especially delicate due to the involvement of banks, making it crucial for the government to manage the situation carefully to restore public faith in the judicial system. In another instance, the Finance Ministry has referred the London office of the Kuwait Investment Authority to prosecutors on charges of corruption.
The repetition of such trials in recent years reveals not only the extent of corruption but also its dangerous penetration into state agencies and among officials holding sensitive positions.
Despite Kuwait's oil wealth, the nation has faced financial crises, which many analysts attribute to years of mismanagement and resource misappropriation. The government is determined to address these issues and regain control over its financial stability.