US cuts ties to contractor linked with Karzai kin
KABUL, Afghanistan — The US military is cutting ties with an Afghan security firm run by relatives of President Hamid Karzai that has been accused of bribing government officials and Taliban commanders, according to documents obtained yesterday.
The move is part of US efforts to clean up a contracting process in Afghanistan that has been riddled with corruption and allowed US funds to pass to insurgents.
It follows a congressional report in June that said the Watan Group bribed Afghan officials to get exclusive control over a key NATO supply route in southern Afghanistan and paid Taliban commanders to avoid attacks along the highway.
As of Dec. 6, Watan has been given a “proposed debarment status’’ — which prevents it from signing new contracts with the US government or renewing existing contracts — according to US military letters sent to the company’s top officers and obtained by the Associated Press. The action was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Watan’s subsidiary Watan Risk Management is headed by two of Karzai’s cousins: Ahmed Rateb Popal and Rashid Popal. According to the US military letters, the two acknowledged the bribes in the congressional report and also told congressional staffers that company guards regularly use illegal weapons, according to the letters.
A Watan representative confirmed the company received the letters but stressed it had not violated any rules.
“The Watan Group takes the accusations of the Army and its actions seriously,’’ said Simon Hilliard, the managing director. “The Watan Group believes it has been in full compliance and that it can demonstrate this to the Army once it is given its chance.’’
Watan has 30 days from the receipt of the letters to submit its argument against the debarment. Hilliard said they planned to reply. If their appeal is rejected, the temporary ban will be extended for up to three years, according to the letters.
If a full ban goes into effect, Watan will be the seventh Afghan company or individual to be blocked from future US contracts this year, according to a senior US military official.