Afghan official says US ambassador suggested he resign

Last Updated: Tue, Jun 29, 2010 15:50 hrs

Afghanistan's Attorney General, Mohammad Ishaq Aloko, said Tuesday that the US ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, admonished him to arrest an Afghan official allegedly involved in corruption or resign.

'The US ambassador tells me that 'if you don't arrest Haji Azimi, then you should resign,'' Aloko told a press conference here. 'It is against all diplomatic principles to threaten the attorney general of a country like this.'

The comments by the country's top prosecutor, which could strain relations between Kabul and Washington, came a day after a US daily quoted unnamed US officials as saying that Aloko has repeatedly impeded the prosecution of suspects with political ties.

The Washington Post reported that among those protected was Haji Muhammad Rafi Azimi, deputy chairman of the Afghan United Bank, a private bank with its headquarters in Kabul.

Azimi was heard on a wiretap recording discussing bribes paid to Mohammad Siddiq Chakari, the former minister for religious affairs, the paper said.

Chakari, who is accused of taking bribes from companies seeking contracts to take pilgrims to the Muslim holy city of Mecca, has fled the country and currently lives in London.

Since Chakari could not be put to trial due to the lack of an extradition treaty between Afghanistan and Britain, US officials instead asked Aloko to arrest Azimi, pointing to the existence of evidence such as the wiretap recording, the paper reported.

'I could not arrest Azimi, because we don't have any evidence against him,' Aloko said in Tuesday's press conference.

Aloko said he told Eikenberry that only the country's parliament or President Hamid Karzai had the authority to ask for his resignation, adding that after Eikenberry failed to persuade him, 'he got upset and left my office'.

Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the US embassy in Kabul, declined to comment on Aloko's assertions, saying 'we don't want to comment on ambassadors' diplomatic discussions'.

Karzai, who was re-elected in a fraud-tainted election last year, has been under pressure by the US and other Western countries with troops in Afghanistan to reform his administration and fight the endemic corruption.

The US government ordered the deployment of 30,000 additional forces to Afghanistan this year in a bid to turn the tide of the nearly nine-year-war in the country. That will increase the total number of US and NATO troops to 150,000 by August.

But US officials have warned that the military surge will not work if Karzai's government fails to contain corruption. The officials have said that the rampant graft in Afghanistan could also cause public support in the West to completely plunge.

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