- Associated Press - Monday, September 27, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The eldest brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he is not aware of a reported criminal investigation into his activities, an inquiry he claims is more about political differences with the United States than wrongdoing on his part.

“I’m hurt, because instead of being praised for what I’ve done, I’m being attacked all the time for political reasons,” Mahmood Karzai, a U.S. citizen who now lives in Dubai and has businesses in Afghanistan, told the Associated Press in a recent interview that touched on corruption claims made against him.

The Wall Street Journal, quoting unnamed U.S. officials, reported Monday that Mahmood Karzai is the focus of a criminal probe by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York who are investigating allegations of tax evasion, racketeering or extortion. The newspaper said that a spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office in New York declined to comment.

Mr. Karzai said he is traveling to New York this week to amend his earnings on his U.S. tax returns to show profits from business deals not previously reported and said he will freely discuss his financial deals with American prosecutors.

“Why should they charge me? I’ve already volunteered to correct the problem. If they want to audit my taxes, they’re welcome to do that,” Mr. Karzai told the AP in the telephone interview last week.

“I’m not involved in anything with the U.S. contracts. I’m not involved with any contract with the government. I’m not working for the government. So my activities are completely private with private individuals,” Mr. Karzai said. “So my picture is very clear. You’ll never find anybody in the whole country who will say that I gave $10 to Mahmood Karzai for this or that favor. I do my projects here for developing. My whole life is open.”

Mr. Karzai said he has not met with investigators or prosecutors in the United States. He said investigators in Afghanistan provided a letter to his lawyer several months ago, saying that he was not the subject of any investigation.

Mr. Karzai said he’s been unfairly targeted by U.S. officials because of disagreements the Afghan president has with the U.S. government over policy issues.

“What I don’t like about international politics is that our family is treated like some kind of monarchy,” he said. “In other words, if there’s some dispute on policy matters with my brother, they will attack me or Ahmad Wali (another of the president’s brothers and a power broker in southern Afghanistan) to make him weak. This is to me so un-American.

“To crucify my rights for the sake of getting to my brother — this is an outrageous way of doing things.”

Mr. Karzai said he was preparing to amend his tax returns to reflect rental income from his home in Maryland and to show a capital gains on the sale of property in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, which he held for eight months before making a profit.

“There’s nothing else in my life that will make me part of an investigation,” said Mr. Karzai, who spends time in Afghanistan, Dubai and the United States. “If somebody else reported something on me and they want to investigate, I’m open to that. It is no problem. There are so many enemies of our family.”

Earlier this month, Mr. Karzai said he made at least $800,000 by buying and then quickly reselling a high-end Dubai villa using a loan provided by the chairman of the troubled Kabul Bank. Mr. Karzai is a 7 percent shareholder of the bank, which now is being overseen by Afghanistan’s central bank.

Mr. Karzai, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, said the villa sale and the loan to cover for it were organized by Sherkhan Farnood — who has since resigned as Kabul Bank chairman — though it was listed in Mr. Karzai’s name. He said he was uncertain about the terms of the loan — or even if bank funds were involved.

Just months after he bought the property for $1.9 million, Mr. Karzai said, he sold it for about $2.7 million. Again, he said, Mr. Farnood handled the deal.

Mr. Karzai said that he has focused on development in Afghanistan, including $4 million he and five others invested in a residential project in Kandahar where 11,000 lots have been sold. They also have used proceeds from the sale of the lots to pay for roads, sidewalks, electricity service, a sewage system and water. He said the project, which could take a decade to complete, is generating revenue for the Afghanistan government — $2 million in fees and taxes already and the expectation of a total of $30 million in payments by the time the project is completed.

Mr. Karzai said he was living on income he earned in the United States, including that from a restaurant in Cambridge, Mass. He said he recently sold some of his businesses, including another restaurant in Baltimore, to employees. He said he also has sold a car business that he opened several years ago in Afghanistan, but he remains part owner of a cement producer, which employees 1,500 people. Thirty-four investors, including Mr. Karzai, took a risk by investing in the cement business, which he said has lost between $900,000 and $1 million in each of the past three years.

“I’m really looking forward to the day when my activities will be supported because I’m doing exactly what the United States intends to do in this country,” Mr. Karzai said. “And I was encouraged in the beginning when my brother had a good relationship with the government, in the good old days. I was encouraged to do more and more. All of this has turned around now to the negative.”

Brett J. Blackledge reported from Washington.

 

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