Iraq's Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi speaks to the media as he leaves a meeting with Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, unseen, in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's fugitive Sunni vice president on Monday declared his "absolute innocence" and rejected the terror trial that sentenced him to death on charges of masterminding the murder of rivals as a politically motivated sham.
Tariq al-Hashemi, who fled Iraq after the country's government brought the charges against him, called the trial illegitimate and accused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite and longtime foe of the vice president, of orchestrating it as part of a political vendetta.
"I totally reject and will never recognize" the verdict, al-Hashemi told reporters in the Turkish capital of Ankara. "I consider the verdict a medal on my chest."
"The death sentence is a price I have to pay due to love to my country and my loyalty to my people," he added. "I reiterate that I'm innocent, and am ready to stand before a fair judicial system and not a corrupt one that is under al-Maliki's influence."
Al-Hashemi fled to Turkey after Iraq's Shiite-led government issued the terror charges against him in December, the day after U.S. troops withdrew from the country. He would receive a retrial if he agrees to return to Baghdad, but al-Hashemi has refused, saying he will never get a fair hearing in a Baghdad court.
The politically charged case sparked a government crisis and fueled Sunni Muslim and Kurdish resentment against al-Maliki, whom critics say is monopolizing power.
On Sunday, Baghdad's criminal court convicted al-Hashemi and his son-in-law, Ahmed Qahtan, of organizing the murders of a Shiite security official and a lawyer who had refused to help the vice president's allies in terror cases. The two defendants were acquitted in a third case of the killing of a security officer due to a lack of evidence.
The charges were the first against al-Hashemi to go to trial among the government's allegations that he played a role in 150 bombings, assassinations and other attacks from 2005 to 2011 — years in which the country was mired in retaliatory sectarian violence that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein's Sunni regime. Most of the attacks were allegedly carried out by al-Hashemi's bodyguards and other employees, and largely targeted government officials, security forces and Shiite pilgrims.
The Baghdad court sentenced both al-Hashemi and Qahtan in absentia to death. They have 30 days to appeal the verdict and could win a retrial if they return to Iraq to face the charges.
Al-Hashemi — who has been in office since 2006 — is on Interpol's most-wanted list, but Turkey has shown no interest in sending the vice president back to Baghdad, straining diplomacy between the two neighboring nations.
Al-Hashemi appeared defiantly upbeat at the packed press conference. "I am not worried about my life," he said. "I am worried about the future of my country."
Associated Press Writer Chris Torchia in Istanbul contributed to this report.
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