New Accusations Of Corruption Aimed At Karzai Administration

In another blow to U.S. efforts to fight corruption in Afghanistan, one of the country's most senior prosecutors says he was forced into early retirement by President Hamid Karzai. The prosecutor maintains that members of the Karzai government are blocking corruption investigations involving high-ranking officials. Host Liane Hansen talks to NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Kabul.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Fighting government corruption has been a key focus of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. Those efforts may have been dealt a setback this weekend. One of the country's most senior prosecutors said that he was forced into retirement by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The prosecutor says that senior government officials are blocking corruption investigations involving high-ranking members of the Karzai government.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is covering this story and in Kabul.

Soraya, you've actually spoken with the prosecutor at the center of this story. Who is he and what did he tell you?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: He's the deputy attorney general here, or I should say a deputy attorney general, by the name of Fazel Ahmed Faqiryar. And we went to his home today, a very modest apartment here in Kabul. And he basically tells us that he was forced into retirement last week, after his papers had been lingering for a while. I mean, he is somewhat old by Afghan standards. He's about 72. No one here knows their exact age because they don't record these sorts of things like births.

And he has served in the government for what he says is less than 40 years, which is the maximum you're allowed to do that. And the government, of course, is claiming it's been more than 40 years.

But what's interesting is he shows us papers - or showed us papers that demonstrate the paperwork for his retirement had actually been sitting on the desk of the Afghan President Hamid Karzai for six or seven weeks. And then suddenly, after a controversial TV show aired featuring one of this gentleman's prosecutors talking about corruption in government the document was signed and he was basically let go last week.

HANSEN: Tell us about the cases and the officials he was investigating.

NELSON: Well, he was reluctant to talk a lot about that today. I think he's sort of wondering if he's spoken too much. Or I don't know - he just said he knows a lot he can't talk about.

But what we do know is that last year he got up in front of parliament and mentioned 25 names, some of them the most senior members of Karzai's cabinet, including his former foreign minister who is now in the National Security Council, Rangin Spanta, as well as the former Minister for Haj, Mohammed Siddiq Chakari. And perhaps most in the news lately, one of his key aides, Mohammad Zia Salehi.

And he basically talked about these people receiving graft or stuff - they should be investigated for perhaps receiving bribes, that sort of thing. And, of course, Mr. Salehi's name has also appeared in a lot of recent news reports as having perhaps been on the CIA payroll, as well.

HANSEN: Has there been any response from the Afghan government about the prosecutor's claims?

NELSON: Well, they've said little about the graft and the corruption other than that they're fighting it and they're looking into it, and that civil rights need to be maintained.

But what was interesting was a very stark statement released by the president's office yesterday, denying stories that have been coming out in recent days in the American media, concerning CIA payments to some of the top aides who are accused of accepting that graft.

They didn't actually deny that the CIA payments were made. But what they did say was that they were basically trying to distract or divert from President Karzai's criticisms of the West, in terms of its handling of the Taliban and of civilian casualties, and that it was what they described as irresponsible propaganda.

HANSEN: And briefly, U.S. officials have been demanding that President Karzai put an end to the rampant corruption in his government. How big a setback is the loss of this prosecutor?

NELSON: Well, he certainly was one of the more vocal ones and pretty senior in the attorney general chain. Unfortunately, he just lost the battle, if you will, with both his boss, the attorney general and President Karzai. And so it's very doubtful that Afghan officials of his caliber are going to feel compelled to stand up and saying anything about graft or corruption, if this is sort of the fate that they face.

HANSEN: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Kabul, thanks so much.

NELSON: You're welcome.

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