HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Reports Link Karzai's Brother to Heroin Trade
Pubdate: Sun, 5 Oct 2008
Source: New York Times (NY)
Page: A1, Front Page
Copyright: 2008 The New York Times Company
Author: James Risen
Note: Carlotta Gall contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.
Bookmark: (Corruption - Outside U.S.)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


WASHINGTON -- When Afghan security forces found an enormous cache of 
heroin hidden beneath concrete blocks in a tractor-trailer outside 
Kandahar in 2004, the local Afghan commander quickly impounded the 
truck and notified his boss.

Before long, the commander, Habibullah Jan, received a telephone call 
from Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of President Hamid Karzai, asking 
him to release the vehicle and the drugs, Mr. Jan later told American 
investigators, according to notes from the debriefing obtained by The 
New York Times. He said he complied after getting a phone call from 
an aide to President Karzai directing him to release the truck.

Two years later, American and Afghan counternarcotics forces stopped 
another truck, this time near Kabul, finding more than 110 pounds of 
heroin. Soon after the seizure, United States investigators told 
other American officials that they had discovered links between the 
drug shipment and a bodyguard believed to be an intermediary for 
Ahmed Wali Karzai, according to a participant in the briefing.

The assertions about the involvement of the president's brother in 
the incidents were never investigated, according to American and 
Afghan officials, even though allegations that he has benefited from 
narcotics trafficking have circulated widely in Afghanistan.

Both President Karzai and Ahmed Wali Karzai, now the chief of the 
Kandahar Provincial Council, the governing body for the region that 
includes Afghanistan's second largest city, dismiss the allegations 
as politically motivated attacks by longtime foes.

"I am not a drug dealer, I never was and I never will be," the 
president's brother said in a recent phone interview. "I am a victim 
of vicious politics."

But the assertions about him have deeply worried top American 
officials in Kabul and in Washington. The United States officials 
fear that perceptions that the Afghan president might be protecting 
his brother are damaging his credibility and undermining efforts by 
the United States to buttress his government, which has been under 
siege from rivals and a Taliban insurgency fueled by drug money, 
several senior Bush administration officials said. Their concerns 
have intensified as American troops have been deployed to the country 
in growing numbers.

"What appears to be a fairly common Afghan public perception of 
corruption inside their government is a tremendously corrosive 
element working against establishing long-term confidence in that 
government -- a very serious matter," said Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, 
who was commander of coalition military forces in Afghanistan from 
2003 to 2005 and is now retired. "That could be problematic 
strategically for the United States."

The White House says it believes that Ahmed Wali Karzai is involved 
in drug trafficking, and American officials have repeatedly warned 
President Karzai that his brother is a political liability, two 
senior Bush administration officials said in interviews last week.

Numerous reports link Ahmed Wali Karzai to the drug trade, according 
to current and former officials from the White House, the State 
Department and the United States Embassy in Afghanistan, who would 
speak only on the condition of anonymity. In meetings with President 
Karzai, including a 2006 session with the United States ambassador, 
the Central Intelligence Agency's station chief and their British 
counterparts, American officials have talked about the allegations in 
hopes that the president might move his brother out of the country, 
said several people who took part in or were briefed on the talks.

"We thought the concern expressed to Karzai might be enough to get 
him out of there," one official said. But President Karzai has 
resisted, demanding clear-cut evidence of wrongdoing, several 
officials said. "We don't have the kind of hard, direct evidence that 
you could take to get a criminal indictment," a White House official 
said. "That allows Karzai to say, 'where's your proof?' "

Neither the Drug Enforcement Administration, which conducts 
counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan, nor the fledgling Afghan 
anti-drug agency has pursued investigations into the accusations 
against the president's brother.

Several American investigators said senior officials at the D.E.A. 
and the office of the Director of National Intelligence complained to 
them that the White House favored a hands-off approach toward Ahmed 
Wali Karzai because of the political delicacy of the matter. But 
White House officials dispute that, instead citing limited D.E.A. 
resources in Kandahar and southern Afghanistan and the absence of 
political will in the Afghan government to go after major drug 
suspects as the reasons for the lack of an inquiry.

"We invested considerable resources into building Afghan capability 
to conduct such investigations and consistently encouraged Karzai to 
take on the big fish and address widespread Afghan suspicions about 
the link between his brother and narcotics," said Meghan O'Sullivan, 
who was the coordinator for Afghanistan and Iraq at the National 
Security Council until last year.

It was not clear whether President Bush had been briefed on the 
matter.Humayun Hamidzada, press secretary for President Karzai, 
denied that the president's brother was involved in drug trafficking 
or that the president had intervened to help him. "People have made 
allegations without proof," Mr. Hamidzada said.

Spokesmen for the Drug Enforcement Administration, the State 
Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence 
declined to comment.

An Informant's Tip

The concerns about Ahmed Wali Karzai have surfaced recently because 
of the imprisonment of an informant who tipped off American and 
Afghan investigators to the drug-filled truck outside Kabul in 2006.

The informant, Hajji Aman Kheri, was arrested a year later on charges 
of plotting to kill an Afghan vice president in 2002. The Afghan 
Supreme Court recently ordered him freed for lack of evidence, but he 
has not been released. Nearly 100 political leaders in his home 
region protested his continued incarceration last month.

Mr. Kheri, in a phone interview from jail in Kabul, said he had been 
an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration and United 
States intelligence agencies, an assertion confirmed by American 
counternarcotics and intelligence officials. Several of those 
officials, frustrated that the Bush administration was not pressing 
for Mr. Kheri's release, came forward to disclose his role in the drug seizure.

Ever since the American-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, critics 
have charged that the Bush administration has failed to take 
aggressive action against the Afghan narcotics trade, because of both 
opposition from the Karzai government and reluctance by the United 
States military to get bogged down by eradication and interdiction 
efforts that would antagonize local warlords and Afghan poppy 
farmers. Now, Afghanistan provides about 95 percent of the world's 
supply of heroin.

Just as the Taliban have benefited from money produced by the drug 
trade, so have many officials in the Karzai government, according to 
American and Afghan officials. Thomas Schweich, a former senior State 
Department counternarcotics official, wrote in The New York Times 
Magazine in July that drug traffickers were buying off hundreds of 
police chiefs, judges and other officials. "Narco-corruption went to 
the top of the Afghan government," he said.

Suspicions of Corruption

Of the suspicions about Ahmed Wali Karzai, Representative Mark Steven 
Kirk, an Illinois Republican who has focused on the Afghan drug 
problem in Congress, said, "I would ask people in the Bush 
administration and the D.E.A. about him, and they would say, 'We 
think he's dirty.' "

In the two drug seizures in 2004 and 2006, millions of dollars' worth 
of heroin was found. In April 2006, Mr. Jan, by then a member of the 
Afghan Parliament, met with American investigators at a D.E.A. safe 
house in Kabul and was asked to describe the events surrounding the 
2004 drug discovery, according to notes from the debriefing session. 
He told the Americans that after impounding the truck, he received 
calls from Ahmed Wali Karzai and Shaida Mohammad, an aide to 
President Karzai, according to the notes.

Mr. Jan later became a political opponent of President Karzai, and in 
a 2007 speech in Parliament he accused Ahmed Wali Karzai of 
involvement in the drug trade. Mr. Jan was shot to death in July as 
he drove from a guesthouse to his main residence in Kandahar 
Province. The Taliban were suspected in the assassination.

Mr. Mohammad, in a recent interview in Washington, dismissed Mr. 
Jan's account, saying that Mr. Jan had fabricated the story about 
being pressured to release the drug shipment in order to damage 
President Karzai.

But Khan Mohammad, the former Afghan commander in Kandahar who was 
Mr. Jan's superior in 2004, said in a recent interview that Mr. Jan 
reported at the time that he had received a call from the Karzai aide 
ordering him to release the drug cache. Khan Mohammad recalled that 
Mr. Jan believed that the call had been instigated by Ahmed Wali 
Karzai, not the president.

"This was a very heavy issue," Mr. Mohammad said.

He provided the same account in an October 2004 interview with The 
Christian Science Monitor. Mr. Mohammad said that after a subordinate 
captured a large shipment of heroin about two months earlier, the 
official received repeated telephone calls from Ahmed Wali Karzai. 
"He was saying, 'This heroin belongs to me, you should release it,' " 
the newspaper quoted Mr. Mohammad as saying.

Languishing in Detention

In 2006, Mr. Kheri, the Afghan informant, tipped off American 
counternarcotics agents to another drug shipment. Mr. Kheri, who had 
proved so valuable to the United States that his family had been 
resettled in Virginia in 2004, briefly returned to Afghanistan in 2006.

The heroin in the truck that was seized was to be delivered to Ahmed 
Wali Karzai's bodyguard in the village of Maidan Shahr, and then 
transported to Kandahar, one of the Afghans involved in the deal 
later told American investigators, according to notes of his 
debriefing. Several Afghans -- the drivers and the truck's owner -- 
were arrested by Afghan authorities, but no action was taken against 
Mr. Karzai or his bodyguard, who investigators believe serves as a 
middleman, the American officials said.

In 2007, Mr. Kheri visited Afghanistan again, once again serving as 
an American informant, the officials said. This time, however, he was 
arrested by the Karzai government and charged in the 2002 
assassination of Hajji Abdul Qadir, an Afghan vice president, who had 
been a political rival of Mr. Kheri's brother, Hajji Zaman, a former 
militia commander and a powerful figure in eastern Afghanistan.

Mr. Kheri, in the phone interview from Kabul, denied any involvement 
in the killing and said his arrest was politically motivated. He 
maintained that the president's brother was involved in the heroin trade.

"It's no secret about Wali Karzai and drugs," said Mr. Kheri, who 
speaks English. "A lot of people in the Afghan government are 
involved in drug trafficking."

Mr. Kheri's continued detention, despite the Afghan court's order to 
release him, has frustrated some of the American investigators who 
worked with him.

In recent months, they have met with officials at the State 
Department and the office of the Director of National Intelligence 
seeking to persuade the Bush administration to intervene with the 
Karzai government to release Mr. Kheri.

"We have just left a really valuable informant sitting in jail to 
rot," one investigator said.
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