Wall Street Journal, November 27, 2010

Video Shows Apparent Afghan Bribe

Election officials said the tape was puzzling since an independent, low-level election observer would not be in a position to alter the outcome of any race

By Matthew Rosenberg, Maria Abi-Habib and Arif Afzalzada

KABUL—A fresh controversy is threatening to further mar the already messy aftermath of Afghanistan's fraud-ridden parliamentary elections with the emergence of a videotape that appears to show an elderly Western woman soliciting an alleged bribe to fix the results.

video showing fraudulent elections in afghanistan
Another cell phone video captured underage voters and ballot stuffing. (Photo: ABC News)

Afghan prosecutors and electoral officials identified the woman as a Hungarian who works for an obscure group called the Foundation for Afghanistan. She registered herself as a vote monitor ahead of the Sept. 18 poll, the officials said.

The video was first broadcast Friday evening on Emroz TV, a private Afghan station, which claimed the woman worked for the United Nations mission here and presented it as evidence of the international community's complicity in the widespread fraud during the elections.

The U.N. said it had no connection to the woman, who in the video is apparently receiving cash from a man sitting just off-screen. A copy of the video was reviewed Saturday by The Wall Street Journal.

In the video, the woman can be heard saying she will take the complaints of the man to election officials. The two are speaking in Dari, an Afghan language.

After allegedly being handed the cash, the woman says: "It is not enough. Give me this now but you have to give me more later."

She adds: "I think we agreed on $8,000 and you still have to give me $6,000."

It is not clear from the video where exactly the meeting took place or what complaints she was agreeing to pass on.

The woman's whereabouts are not known, officials said. The Foundation for Afghanistan did not respond to an email query.

Deputy Attorney General Rahmatullah Nazari said in an interview that Afghan authorities were seeking to locate and question the woman. She is believed to still be in Afghanistan, and Mr. Nazari said the Attorney General's office had issued an order barring her from leaving.

Election officials said the tape was puzzling since an independent, low-level election observer would not be in a position to alter the outcome of any race.

"She can't affect the process because she was not involved in the process," said Zekria Barakzai, the chief deputy electoral officer of the Independent Election Commission, which organizes elections in Afghanistan. He said the IEC was also investigating the video.

Some Western diplomats said Saturday they suspect the video is part of a broader effort by elements within the administration of President Hamid Karzai to discredit the vote, although they cited no hard evidence to back the claim.

The diplomats and some Afghan officials allege the president or people close to him are also behind a broad investigation launched this week by the Attorney General's office, which says it has evidence that electoral officials were bribed to sway the results.

Election officials have denied any wrongdoing, and say they are focused on rooting out candidates who won through fraudulent means. The IEC has so far disqualified 24 candidates – about 10% of the total – because of evidence of ballot stuffing, voter intimidation and other irregularities.

The Attorney General's office announced the investigation a day after the IEC released nearly complete results. Mr. Nazari said arrest warrants have been issued for four elections officials.

Western diplomats and Afghan observers fear the investigation could delay the opening of the new parliament by months, possibly longer, effectively allowing Mr. Karzai to rule by edict.

Prosecutors say politics are not influencing the investigation, and Karzai administration officials say the president is not playing any behind-the-scenes role in the election's aftermath.

Write to Matthew Rosenberg at matthew.rosenberg@wsj.com

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