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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Budget cutting in the United States intensifies questions about the money we spend abroad, and that includes money spent in Afghanistan. Just last week, Vermont Democrat Peter Welch called on Congress to investigate corruption in Afghanistan, where the United States is spending billions.

MONTAGNE: It turns out that a similar conversation was taking place in the Afghan legislature. Afghanistan's deputy Attorney General said he had arrest warrants for high-ranking government officials, but he said he's afraid to actually take the men into custody.

NPR's Quil Lawrence reports from Kabul.

QUIL LAWRENCE: Afghans say they encounter corruption at every turn - from paying their electricity bills, to electing their president. They discuss it constantly, but not usually in such a public forum as an open session of parliament, or with the deputy attorney general doing the talking.

Mr. RAHMATULLAH NAZARIS (Deputy Attorney General, Afghanistan): (Through translator) A deputy minister of this government has been sentenced to five years by a court of law. But to go and arrest him, we would need a battalion of policemen. We admit it: We have these kinds of problems arresting high officials. If we were to go and arrest him, there would be shootout and bloodshed, and innocent people would die.

LAWRENCE: Deputy Attorney General Rahmatullah Nazaris later said that at least 20 corruption cases on his docket involved senior government officials, but since many of them are warlords with armed militias, it's not possible to arrest them.

The anti-corruption line surprised many, since the attorney general's office is widely perceived as a staunch ally of President Hamid Karzai. For example, last month, a prosecutor detained a close advisor to President Karzai, Nurullah Delawari, but he was promptly released after an angry call from the presidential palace, according to a source at the attorney general's office.

But, as with many corruption cases here, the facts are elusive. The advisor, Delawari, says he's guilty of no crime, and was simply questioned about another case.

Mr. NURULLAH DELAWARI (Advisor, President Hamid Karzai): And when I came out, I heard a lot of these news media and televisions all over with my pictures saying that - was arrested, charged with embezzlement of $3 million. I was shocked to hear this, because my reputation is more important than this job or being an advisor to the president.

LAWRENCE: Delawari says Afghanistan's judiciary system is all accusations and little evidence. And that's leading to an atmosphere where corruption allegations have become a political weapon, says Rangin Spanta, Afghanistan's national security advisor.

This winter, a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks alleged that Spanta had taken millions in bribes. There was no evidence, and the U.S. embassy publically supported Spanta, but the accusation is still out there, he says.

Mr. RANGIN SPANTA (National security advisor, Afghanistan): And unfortunately, this accusing people to be involved in corruption, this is also a weapon to eliminate the politician life, also to eliminate the dignity of the people. This is the bad thing and make our fight against corruption not easier.

LAWRENCE: Several other figures seen as key to the fight against corruption have found themselves facing charges in recent months, leaving the Afghan public to wonder, with each new case, whether the accused was caught red-handed, or perhaps getting a bit too close to catching someone who was really guilty.

Quil Lawrence, NPR news,�Kabul.

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