Afghan govt rejects US lawmaker's corruption claim



Kabul: The Afghan government on Wednesday rejected as "unjust" allegations by a senior US lawmaker that international aid money is being embezzled on a massive scale by officials.

On Monday US lawmaker Nita Lowey, head of the powerful committee in charge of the budget, blocked billions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan, vowing not to give "one more dime" until Kabul acts against corruption.

Lowey said she would hold hearings into allegations, reported by US media, that senior Afghan officials have been flying suitcases full of cash out of the troubled country.

Mohammad Omar Zakhailwal, the Afghan finance minister, said more than USD four billion had been flown out of the country since 2007 but the cash was from contracts with US and NATO troops.

"In the media, particularly by this congresswoman, this has been shown as an indication of widespread corruption in the government," he said.

"This is not us. This is the contractors," he added.

He said that of about USD 20 billion that the international community -- mainly US and NATO -- have poured into Afghanistan since 2007, the Kabul administration had control over only USD one billion.

"The remaining is contracted out directly by the donors," he said, adding: "How could we be involved in this?"

Zakhailwal called for an "international inquiry" into how the Afghan government has spent donor funds -- as well as huge sums spent by international donors.

He said military contracts involving "hundreds of millions of dollars" were contributing to corruption in his country, for which "the international community is blaming us".

Afghanistan is regarded as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, rated by Transparency International as second only to lawless Somalia.

President Hamid Karzai pledged as he took office last year for his second term to clean up graft, but is seen to have done little despite intense pressure from the Western governments keeping him in power.

PTI