Iraq's fugitive Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, a top critic of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, was convicted of murder Sunday and sentenced to death by hanging, in a decision likely to renew political tensions.
Hashemi, tried in absentia, has dismissed all charges against him as politically motivated. A Baghdad court also tried in absentia his secretary and son-in-law Ahmed Qahtan and sentenced him to death.
The trial for the murder of a lawyer and a brigadier general, which began in May, covered the first of around 150 charges levelled against Hashemi, who has been accused of running a death squad, and his bodyguards.
Sunday hearing opened with the prosecution asking the court to condemn Hashemi, one of Iraq's most senior Sunni officials, to death for the two murders but to drop a charge of involvement in another top security official's killing.
The defence lawyers then read a lengthy closing statement protesting that the trial was unfair and the court exposed to political pressure.
A judge at one point interrupted, warning the defence lawyer: "You are attacking the judicial authority and you will be held responsible if you continue."
The sentence was issued after about 30 minutes of deliberation by the three judges.
Hashemi, who was born in 1942, became one of Iraq's vice presidents in April 2006, the same month that his brother and sister were shot dead in separate attacks.
When he first became a vice president, he was the head of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a group that was said to have connections to some elements of Iraq's Sunni insurgency.
The party was the driving force in Iraq's Sunni-led National Concord Front, which helped mastermind the return of the country's Sunni minority to the political process after the community boycotted January 2005 elections.
Hashemi later founded the Tajdid (Renewal) party, which is a part of Iraqiya, the secular, Sunni-backed bloc that won the most seats in 2010 parliamentary polls only to be outmanoeuvred by Maliki, who retained the premiership.
He was reelected as vice president in 2010 but was accused of running a death squad in mid-December 2011 as the last American soldiers left the country.
Hashemi fled to Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, which declined to hand him over to the federal government, and then embarked on a tour that took him to Qatar and Saudi Arabia. He has taken refuge in Turkey since April.
Interpol said in May that it had issued an international Red Notice for the arrest of Hashemi on suspicion of "guiding and financing terrorist attacks."
It said the notice, its highest possible alert, was issued under an Iraqi warrant "as part of an investigation in which security forces seized bombing materials and arrested individuals."