- Associated Press - Thursday, November 25, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Afghan attorney general’s office has arrested two employees of the nation’s electoral commission and two people working in the money transfer business on allegations of fraud in the September parliamentary elections, the deputy attorney general said Thursday.

The arrests are the latest problem to overshadow the vote, which has been seen as a test of President Hamid Karzai’s commitment to curb corruption in his government since last year’s fraud-ridden presidential election.

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission have the authority to investigate complaints of election misconduct and certify results, but the attorney general can probe criminal activity. He announced on Wednesday that he would investigate allegations of fraudulent vote counting and ballot manipulation.

The investigation by the nation’s top prosecutor, who was appointed by Mr. Karzai, has raised speculation among Western diplomats that the president or his advisers are upset with the election results and are pushing the attorney general to probe election fraud and throw the victories of certain candidates into doubt. Not all western diplomats agree, saying they have seen no evidence that Mr. Karzai is behind the investigation.

Deputy Attorney General Rahmatullah Nazari denied allegations that Mr. Karzai had ordered the attorney general to investigate. He said that after the investigation was completed — hopefully within a month — the results would be handed to the Supreme Court. A western diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the delicate political issue, said the court’s rulings on any cases could change the outcome of certain races.

Mr. Nazari said an arrest warrant has also been issued for a third employee of Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission.

“One important person who has a role in this case has not yet been arrested,” Mr. Nazari said. “The person not yet arrested is an IEC employee — high-ranking — one who is making decisions.”

He declined to name those arrested or which parliamentary races were involved.

IEC spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor declined to comment, saying the commission did not know which of its more than 85,000 employees had been arrested.

Attorney General Mohammad Ishaq Alako claimed earlier this week that money from well-connected Afghans, many of whom keep their riches in Dubai, heavily influenced the election results.

Mr. Nazari told reporters at the attorney general’s office that prosecutors were investigating at least five cases of election bribery involving sums ranging from $80,000 and $220,000.

“These are the papers that are written in the money market that prove there were bribes,” Mr. Nazari said, holding up papers that named candidates and people in the business of transferring money.

Mr. Nazari criticized the IEC for releasing the final election results for 33 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces on Wednesday before the attorney general’s investigations were completed.

A statement issued by Mr. Karzai’s office said that in resolving the election problems, the president was respecting the constitution and “will act accordingly.”

Mr. Karzai also urged losing candidates not to resort to violent protests, but to submit their complaints to the appropriate authorities so that they can be properly investigated.

Election organizers first excluded about 1.3 million ballots — nearly a quarter of the total — for fraud. Then the Electoral Complaints Commission disqualified 19 winning candidates for misconduct and threw out ballots from hundreds more polling stations earlier this week.

More than 4,000 complaints have been filed with the commission, which has submitted 413 of the complaints to the attorney general’s office for criminal prosecution.

“This election occurred with a high level of corruption and the cases that we are investigating — they have all been submitted to us,” Mr. Nazari said.

Separately, a NATO service member died in an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan on Sunday and coalition forces confirmed killing an insurgent leader who was on their top 25 list of militant targets. The alliance did not disclose the nationality or details of the service member’s death. It brings to 47 the number who have died so far this month.

NATO said it confirmed that two other militants taken into custody on Nov. 22 also were on their top 25 list of targets. Two others insurgent facilitators were arrested on separate operations Thursday in eastern Afghanistan, it added. All were members of the al-Qaida-linked Haqqani network operating on Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan.

It identified the Haqqani network leader as Wahidullah and said he was killed by an air strike on Nov. 22 in Khost province’s Sabari district. Many Afghans use a single name. NATO said it has killed or captured 19 Haqqani leaders in Khost so far this month.

NATO also announced it had killed a Taliban leader thought to have been responsible for briefly overrunning a district government compound in Ghazni province’s Khogyani district in early November. The Taliban kidnapped 12 Afghan police officers during that raid. An announcement said Abdul Hadi was killed when he pulled a pistol on Afghan and NATO forces who were trying to arrest him during a raid late Wednesday in Khogyani.

Associated Press Writer Massieh Neshat in Kabul contributed to this report.


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