- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 30, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was in the Afghan capital to talk with officials about improving the justice system and fighting corruption Wednesday, a day after Afghanistan’s top prosecutor defended himself against allegations that he’s being pressured not to pursue cases against powerful figures.

Corruption and an ineffectual court system have undermined public trust in President Hamid Karzai’s government. The Obama administration and other donor nations, who need Mr. Karzai to be perceived as a credible partner, are pushing him to clean up bribery, graft and corruption.

“Fighting corruption and supporting the rule of law in Afghanistan are top priorities for this administration, and we will continue to assist the Afghan government in creating and sustaining the effective criminal justice system to which the Afghan people are entitled,” Mr. Holder said in a statement issued by the U.S. Justice Department in Washignton.

Mr. Karzai, who has set up an anti-corruption commission, insists that he does not condone or tolerate corruption. In a recent speech, he invited people to come forward with evidence of corruption even if it implicated his relatives, friends or government officials.

On Tuesday, Afghanistan’s top prosecutor rejected allegations that he’s being asked not to agressively pursue corruption cases against people with political connections. Mohammad Ishaq Aloko also accused U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry of overstepping his diplomatic authority by suggesting that he step down as attorney general if he wasn’t going to charge an Afghan banker in a corruption case.

“It is against all diplomatic ethics that the U.S. ambassador is telling me: ‘If you don’t put this person in prison, you must resign,’” Mr. Aloko told reporters, recounting a conversation he had with Mr. Eikenberry two weeks ago. “I am the attorney general of an independent country.”

Caitlin Hayden, a spokesman for Mr. Eikenberry, did not comment on the conversation, saying the ambassador’s discussions with Afghan officials were private.

“The U.S. Embassy has a regular dialogue and a strong partnership with the attorney general and his office, including robust mentoring and training programs,” the embassy spokeswoman said.

The attorney general held a press conference on Tuesday to rebut a story published Monday in The Washington Post, which said top officials in the Karzai government were blocking corruption probes of political allies. The newspaper quoted U.S. officials as saying that among other things, Afghan prosecutors and investigators had been instructed to disregard evidence against executives of a major financial firm suspected of helping Afghan powerbrokers move millions of dollars out of the country.

“They are saying that I am under the pressure, but I’m not,” Mr. Aloko said.

The attorney general said his conversation with Mr. Eikenberry involved allegations that Mohammad Rafi Azimi, deputy chairman of Afghan United Bank, was linked to the case against the former head of the Ministry of Hajj and Mosque, Sediq Chakari.

Mr. Chakari, who has maintained his innocence, has been tied to the disappearance of travel funds for last year’s annual pilgrimage to Mecca. The attorney general’s office has asked Interpol to arrest Mr. Chakari who is believed to be in Britain.

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