Tariq Aziz, who for years was the public diplomatic face of Saddam Hussein’s regime, went on trial in Baghdad on Tuesday facing charges over the execution of Iraqi merchants during the Baathist era.
Mr. Aziz, 72, who was deputy prime minister under Mr. Hussein, looked frail as he entered the court carrying a walking stick. It was the first time he has appeared to answer charges since he surrendered to American forces on April 25, 2003, two weeks after the invasion.
The case centers on the execution in 1992 of more than 40 Iraqi merchants who were accused by the regime of price-gouging in contravention of strict state controls during the era when Iraq was subject to United Nations sanctions.
If convicted Mr. Aziz faces the death penalty. Among the other defendants are Mr. Hussein’s half-brother Watban Ibrahim al-Hassan and his cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, who is known as Chemical Ali.
Mr. Majid did not attend on Tuesday because of ill health after suffering a heart attack in custody. He has already been sentenced to death in another case for war crimes over his involvement in killing tens of thousands of Kurds, including by poison gas. Judge Raouf Abdul-Rahman adjourned Tuesday’s hearing until May 20, citing Mr. Majid’s absence.
Speaking from Jordan by telephone, one of Mr. Aziz’s lawyers, Badie Arif, said: “It is not a solid case. They don’t even have enough to bring him to trial in the first place.”
A graduate of Baghdad University, Mr. Aziz was born in Mosul into a Chaldean Christian Arab family, and later changed his name from Michael Yuhanna.
He lived in a magnificent villa on the banks of the River Tigris, in which looters found boxes of his trademark Romeo y Julieta ‘Churchill’ cigars, bottles of Chivas Regal scotch whisky, Pierre Cardin shoes and books including biographies of Saddam Hussein and Colin Powell, and “Shakespeare’s Lessons in Leadership and Management.”