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Prosecutor says Afghan leader fired him for fighting corruption

By Dexter Filkins and Alissa J. Rubin
New York Times / August 29, 2010

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KABUL, Afghanistan — One of the country’s most senior prosecutors said yesterday that President Hamid Karzai fired him last week after he repeatedly refused to block corruption investigations at the highest levels of Karzai’s government.

Fazel Ahmed Faqiryar, the former deputy attorney general, said investigations of more than two dozen senior Afghan officials — including Cabinet ministers, ambassadors, and provincial governors — were being held up or blocked outright by Karzai, Attorney General Mohammed Ishaq Aloko, and others.

Faqiryar’s account of the troubles plaguing the anticorruption investigations has been largely corroborated in interviews with five Western officials familiar with the cases. They say that Karzai and others have thwarted prosecutions against senior government figures.

An American official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Afghan prosecutors had prepared several cases against officials suspected of corruption, but that Karzai was “stalling and stalling and stalling.’’

“We propose investigations, detentions and prosecutions of high government officials, but we cannot resist him,’’ Faqiryar said of Karzai.

This month, Karzai intervened to stop the prosecution of one of his closest aides, Mohammed Zia Salehi, who investigators say had been wiretapped demanding a bribe.

Karzai’s chief of staff disputed Faqiryar’s characterization of the president’s involvement, saying that the president had instructed the prosecutors to move cases forward “appropriately.’’

“I strongly deny that the president has been in any way obstructing the investigations of these cases,’’ said the chief of staff, Umer Daudzai. “On the contrary, he has done his bit in all these cases, and it is his job to make sure that the justice is not politicized. And, unfortunately we see in some of these cases that it is politicized.’’

Aloko did not respond to requests for comment. Salehi could not be reached.

Faqiryar made his accusations amid a growing sense of alarm in the Obama administration and in Congress over Karzai’s failure to take action against officials suspected of corruption, but also as the administration debates whether pushing too hard on corruption will alienate a government whose cooperation they need to wage war.

Awash in American and NATO money, Karzai’s government is widely regarded as one of the most corrupt in the world. American officials believe that the corruption drives Afghans into the arms of the Taliban.

Faqiryar said he and the other prosecutors were demoralized by the repeated refusal of Karzai and Aloko to allow them to move against corrupt Afghan leaders.

Faqiryar said his prosecutors had opened cases on at least 25 current or former officials, including 17 members of Karzai’s Cabinet, five provincial governors, and at least three ambassadors. None of the cases, he said, have gone forward.

Faqiryar, a 72-year-old career prosecutor, said he was fired Wednesday by Karzai after sending a midlevel prosecutor to speak about public corruption on an Afghan television station.

Faqiryar said his departure was the culmination of a long tug-of-war between him and his prosecutors on one side, and Karzai and Aloko on the other.

The dispute began last year, Faqiryar said, when he went before parliament and read aloud the names of at least 25 officials who were under investigation for corruption. The list included some of the most senior officials in Karzai’s government.

When Faqiryar returned from parliament, he said, he was summoned by Aloko, who told him that Karzai was furious.

Daudzai insisted that Faqiryar was not dismissed. He said Faqiryar had been due to retire and that his papers “were signed weeks ago but just now came to the surface.’’

Some of the corruption cases involved minor transgressions. But Faqiryar said his prosecutors had unearthed serious allegations of corruption against several senior Afghan officials.

Just three of the 25 Afghan officials have been charged, he said, and in no case has a verdict been rendered. The cases of the other 22 have either been blocked or are lying dormant for inexplicable reasons, he said.

One of the most serious cases involves Khoja Ghulam Ghaws, the governor of Kapisa Province, who was appointed by Karzai in 2007. According to Western officials, Afghan prosecutors compiled a dossier against Ghaws that included telephone intercepts and sworn statements from Americans and Afghans.

According to these officials, prosecutors have enough evidence to charge Ghaws with colluding with insurgents and demanding kickbacks from contractors working on American- and Afghan-financed development projects. Ghaws is also a suspect in the killing of five members of a provincial reconstruction team last year.

Prosecutors turned over the Ghaws case to Aloko four months ago, said a Western official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Aloko has refused to sign either the warrant to arrest Ghaws or the warrant to search his house, the official said.

Daudzai said Karzai made the first move against Ghaws “weeks ago’’ by signing a letter suspending him and asking him to appear before the attorney general. He could not explain why Ghaws was still running the province.

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