A Baghdad court sentenced in absentia Iraq’s vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, to death on terrorism charges, a judge said.

Al-Hashemi, who left the country before the trial began on May 3, was charged with running a death squad and involvement in the assassination of security officials and a lawyer.

Al-Hashemi, Iraq’s most senior Sunni Muslim official denied the charges, calling it a political ploy on the part of the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Al-Hashemi first sought refuge in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq in December, after an arrest warrant was issued against him. Later, unconfirmed reports said he went to Turkey then Qatar.

His current whereabouts are unclear.

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