BAGHDAD- A former Iraqi trade minister and two senior ministry officials have been sentenced in absentia to seven years in jail on graft charges, a Baghdad court said on Thursday.

The court statement, which did not name the officials, said the case was related to violations in two contracts signed in 2015 between the Grain Board of Iraq and one company to supply basmati rice. It was not clear when the verdict was issued.

The grain board is responsible for procuring grain internationally and from Iraqi farmers, making it one of the world's largest importers of wheat and rice.

Iraqi trade ministry officials with knowledge of the case said the convicted ex-minister is Milas Mohammed Abdul Kareem who was sacked in 2015 following an investigation into alleged bribe-taking, illegal benefits and misuse of his position.

Abdul Kareem went into hiding that year after Iraq issued an arrest warrant for him and his brother. Before his disappearance Abdul Kareem had said the allegations against him were not based on solid evidence.

Under Iraqi law, Abdul Kareem and the two officials can appeal against their sentences but must first turn themselves in, a court spokesman said. The whereabouts of all three men remain unknown.

Iraq, a major rice and wheat importer, has previously faced graft accusations connected to its trade ministry, which purchases strategic commodities.

(Reporting by Moayad Kenany; Writing by Ahmed Rasheed Editing by Gareth Jones) ((; +964-7901-947-131; Reuters Messaging: