Despite Karzai’s pledge, government graft eludes prosecution

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KABUL, AFGHANISTAN A major investigation into an influential Afghan governor accused of taking bribes has been shut down and its top prosecutor transferred to a unit that doesn’t handle corruption cases, Afghan and U.S. officials said.

The closing of the investigation into the former governor of Kapisa province, Ghulam Qawis Abu Bakr, comes on the heels of a grim, unpublicized assessment by U.S. officials that no substantive corruption prosecutions were taking place in Afghanistan despite President Hamid Karzai’s pledge to root out graft.

The Abu Bakr investigation raises troubling questions yet again about how much U.S. taxpayer money is lining the pockets of powerful Afghan officials, and whether the U.S. is doing all it can to persuade Mr. Karzai to crack down on corruption.

It also suggests that the lax prosecution of corruption has pervaded all levels of government.

U.S. officials had hoped the case would be the first conviction of a relatively significant person in Afghan government.

While most of Mr. Abu Bakr’s influence is in Kapisa province, he also is connected to the Hizb-e-Islami political party, which the government has been trying to court in hopes of getting the group to cut its ties with militants.

Mr. Abu Bakr was suspended as governor after Gen. David H. Petraeus, then the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and now CIA director, presented Mr. Karzai with documentation showing that he was colluding with the Taliban, according to an Afghan official in Kabul with direct knowledge of the incident.

In the two years since Mr. Karzai announced a new anti-corruption task force, powerful government figures have been accused of corruption and even investigated, but seldom brought to court. It appears that Mr. Abu Bakr will be no exception.

Most of the approximately 2,000 cases investigated by the anti-corruption unit since its birth in 2009 have stalled, said a NATO official familiar with the unit, who spoke anonymously in order to discuss sensitive matters.

The 28 convictions so far all have been of minor players. The attorney general’s office has been infiltrated by power brokers, ranging from lawmakers to warlords, who are blocking cases systematically, the NATO official said.

In general, little has come of Mr. Karzai’s promises after a fraud-marred 2009 election that he would make rooting out graft a priority.

In fact, a corruption scandal in the interim involving the country’s largest private bank has incriminated a number of Karzai allies, including relatives.

The first evidence that corruption was not being taken seriously in the attorney general’s office came in the summer of 2010, when a Karzai aide was arrested on charges of accepting a car in exchange for helping to thwart a corruption case. Mr. Karzai ordered the release of the aide, Mohammad Zia Salehi.

Because of the onslaught of negative publicity, Attorney General Mohammed Ishaq Aloko ordered his prosecutors not to discuss details of their cases with the U.S. officials advising them, saying that if they did, they would be considered U.S. spies, said an Afghan official who worked in the anti-corruption unit.

Both the attorney general and Mr. Abu Bakr declined to comment. The current head of the anti-corruption unit at the attorney general’s office said the case is ongoing.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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