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Scotland Yard probes London mayor s Iraqi cigar case

Scotland Yard has seized a red, leather cigar case from London's mayor in order to investigate whether it is a looted Iraqi artifact, officials said Tuesday.

Boris Johnson said he found the case five years ago in the bombed-out home of former Iraqi deputy premier Tariq Aziz while in the country as a reporter.

He spotted the case peeking out from beneath a piece of plywood when he was brought to see what looters had done to the villas of Saddam Hussein's regime, Johnson wrote in a column published Tuesday in the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph.

"The circumstances in which I came by this object were so morally ambiguous that I cannot quite think of it as theft," the London mayor writes.

The city's police force confirmed Tuesday that it is investigating the cigar case because it is "believed to be a piece of Iraqi cultural property."

Under the UN resolution adopted in the UK in 2003, anyone possessing Iraqi cultural property must hand it over to the police and failure to do so is considered an offence unless there is proof the person was unaware the property was illegally removed from Iraq.

Johnson said he handed over the red, leather, coarsely stitched case to police on Monday, but called the investigation "ludicrous" and a waste of money.

He also said he has received a letter from Aziz's lawyers saying the former Iraqi politician wanted Johnson to consider the cigar case a gift.

Mayor accuses Labour Party of triggering probe

Aziz, who is fluent in English, was the public face of Saddam's totalitarian regime and the only Christian among his mostly Sunni Muslim circle.

He surrendered to U.S. forces in April 2003 shortly after the invasion and has been in custody since under charges related to the execution of dozens of merchants in 1992.

Johnson, a Conservative politician who has also worked as a journalist and TV quiz-show host, accused members of Britain's governing Labour Party of triggering the investigation.

Johnson wrote a newspaper article about the cigar case back in May 2003.

Labour Party lawmaker Steve Pound questioned Johnson's pledge to be tough on crime when he is being investigated for "pilfering."

"Boris has been banging on from day one about zero tolerance, but zero tolerance seems to be a selective concept," Pound said.

Johnson ousted the Labour Party's Ken Livingstone in the mayoral election last month.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Source: CBC.ca

Scotland Yard probes London mayor s Iraqi cigar case