The New York Times, September 14, 2010
New Afghan Corruption Inquiries Frozen
Meantime, the United States Department of Justice advisers working on the corruption cases have been “paused,” a Western diplomat said Tuesday
By Rod Nordland and Alissa J. Rubin
KABUL, Afghanistan — New corruption prosecutions have ground to a halt here as the result of a protracted dispute within the government over the limits of American-backed investigators who have pursued high-ranking Afghans, according to American and Afghan officials.
The last arrest by corruption investigators was seven weeks ago, of a top official in President Karzai’s government, which by the Afghan president’s own account led him to intervene and win the suspect’s release from detention.
Afghanistan’s Attorney General, Mohammed Ishaq Aloko, confirmed in a telephone interview Tuesday that since then no arrests had been made or other prosecutions brought of suspects by the anti-corruption units, the Major Crimes Task Force and the Sensitive Investigative Unit. Nonetheless, he insisted, “These two organizations are working properly and normally on a daily basis.”
Meantime, the United States Department of Justice advisers working on the corruption cases have been “paused,” a Western diplomat said Tuesday.
When U.S.-trained agents from an anticorruption task force raided the headquarters of the nation's largest "hawala" money-transfer business, they caught many people by surprise: the company's politically connected executives, the nation's top law-enforcement officer, even Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 12, 2010
Afghanistan’s top anti-corruption investigators have been trained by Western law enforcement officials, mostly from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration, and are largely financed by the United States and other countries.
After President Karzai intervened to win the release of Mohammed Zia Salehi, head of administration for his National Security Council, who was charged with soliciting a bribe, American officials expressed concern over efforts to impede the work of the two independent units. Fighting corruption is a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s policy in Afghanistan.
A high-ranking Afghan official said that the two units were “stalled.” Since the Salehi case, they have referred at least three cases to the Attorney General’s office for prosecution, but no action had been taken on them yet while officials wait for President Karzai’s Justice Ministry to approve new rules on how the corruption units operate, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of political sensitivities about the case.
Mr. Aloko denied that any new corruption cases had been brought to his office for prosecution since the Salehi arrest.
“That is just rumors and baseless stories,” he said. “It is not true, no cases have been put forward.”
Mr. Aloko did confirm, however, that he had canceled salary supplements that were being given to anti-corruption prosecutors. Called “top-up raises”, they were paid by the American government to keep qualified personnel and insulate them from corruption and political interference.
“I canceled the pay raises from the Americans,” the Attorney General said. “I told them not to pay them any more. We don’t want foreigners’ money, we want to pay from our own budget.”
With only $1 billion in annual revenue, most of Afghanistan’s $3.3 billion budget is financed by the United States and other international donors, in addition to another $10 billion in direct foreign aid from the United States. That does not include the cost of financing the war.
The two anti-corruption units have won high praise from American law enforcement officials for their success in building cases. In the past year, their investigations have resulted in the detentions of more than 50 people on corruption and drug trafficking charges, 10 of them high-ranking officials.
After his arrest, Mr. Salehi complained to President Karzai that American agents had actually carried out the arrest, and that he had been mistreated during the arrest procedure, pulled out of his home in the early morning hours and taken away in chains and handcuffs. Officials close to the task force, however, said that was exaggerated, that no Americans were present during the arrest, and that Mr. Salehi had ignored requests to turn himself in voluntarily to investigators.
The president convened a high-level panel of officials who investigated the two units and reported back that they may have violated suspects’ human rights, and appeared to be operating outside of Afghan laws.
Mr. Karzai’s office then announced, on Aug. 8, that he would issue a decree on Aug. 9 that would clarify the legal basis for the units and end what he saw as their excesses. However, that decree has not yet been published.
“We are still waiting to see what is in that decree,” an American official said. “We’re hoping the President will do the right thing.”
American officials including Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman John Kerry have visited Mr. Karzai recently to urge that he not undermine the work of the anti-corruption investigators. Mr. Karzai has promised them that he remains committed to fighting corruption, but was concerned about violations of Afghan sovereignty by the anti-corruption investigators.
Afghan officials say that in the meantime the Justice Ministry has been drawing up guidelines, in response to the presidential decree, that would define the missions of the anti-corruption units, and also would emphasize that Afghan officials would be in charge of them, not “foreigners,” meaning Americans.
American officials, as well as Afghan officials close to the anti-corruption bodies, have insisted that both units had always been under Afghan control and the Americans only were involved to give advice and logistical support.
“Our mutual goal is to ensure that these special units are able to carry out their jobs effectively and free from political interference,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the American Embassy in Kabul. “As President Obama said last week, we are going to make sure that part of helping President Karzai stand up a broadly accepted, legitimate government is making sure that his government vigorously combats corruption.”
The Afghan official said that although the two units are continuing to carry out investigations, with more than 30 open cases underway, the cases they have completed are not being acted on while authorities await the Justice Ministry’s new guidelines.
In order for suspects to be arrested and tried, the Attorney General’s office has to accept the case presented by the investigators and approve arrest warrants, which has not happened since July.
“The FBI is still working as normal and the international community are working with them,” the official said.
However, the Western diplomat, speaking on customary condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of this issue, said the American advisers’ work had been “paused” while awaiting a decision from the Afghan government on what the anti-corruption units would be allowed to do.
A prominent Afghan businessman who knows Mr. Karzai well said he was just stalling. “The Americans are damned,” he said, referring to the Salehi case. “It’s about sending a signal: the fact that the guy got away means it’s a toothless tiger.”
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