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Karzai is getting millions from Iran, officials allege

‘Presidential slush fund’ is fueled by cash, they say

By Dexter Filkins
New York Times / October 24, 2010

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KABUL, Afghanistan — One evening last August, as President Hamid Karzai wrapped up an official visit to Iran, his personal plane sat on the airport tarmac, waiting for a late-running passenger: Iran’s ambassador to Afghanistan.

The ambassador, Feda Hussein Maliki, finally appeared, taking a seat next to Umar Daudzai, Karzai’s chief of staff and his most trusted confidant. According to an Afghan official on the plane, Maliki handed Daudzai a large plastic bag bulging with packets of euro bills. A second Afghan official confirmed that Daudzai carried home a large bag of cash.

“This is the Iranian money,’’ said an Afghan official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Many of us noticed this.’’

The bag of money was part of a secret, steady stream of Iranian cash intended to buy the loyalty of Daudzai and promote Iran’s interests in the presidential palace, according to Afghan and Western officials here. Iran uses its influence to help drive a wedge between the Afghans and their US and NATO benefactors, they said.

The payments, which officials said total millions of dollars, form an off-the-books fund that Daudzai and Karzai have used to pay Afghan lawmakers, tribal elders, and even Taliban commanders to secure their allegiance, the officials said.

“It’s a basically a presidential slush fund,’’ a Western official in Kabul said of the Iranian-supplied money. “Daudzai’s mission is to advance Iranian interests.’’

The Western and Afghan officials interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the delicacy of discussing the financial dealings of Karzai and his aide. The sources said they were motivated by a concern that Daudzai was helping to poison relations between Karzai and the United States.

Daudzai and Karzai declined to respond to written questions about their relationship with Iran. An aide to Daudzai said the allegations were “rubbish.’’

Maliki, the Iranian ambassador in Kabul, also declined to answer questions. A spokesman for Maliki called the allegations “devilish gossip by the West and foreign media.’’

The Iranian payments are intended to secure the allegiance of Daudzai, a former ambassador to Iran who consistently pushes an anti-Western line on Karzai, the officials said. Daudzai briefs Karzai each morning.

“Karzai knows that without the US, he is finished,’’ an associate of Karzai said. “But it’s like voodoo. Daudzai is the source of all the problems with the US. He is systematically feeding him misinformation, disinformation, and wrong information.’’

The payments to Daudzai illustrate the degree to which the Iranian government has penetrated Karzai’s inner circle despite his presumed allegiance to the United States and the other NATO countries, which have sustained him with military forces and billions of dollars since the Taliban’s ouster since 2001.

Earlier this year, Karzai invited the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to the Presidential Palace, where Ahmadinejad gave a virulently anti-American speech. When Ahmadinejad visited Kabul, he brought two boxes of cash with him, an Afghan official said. “One box was for Daudzai personally, the other for the palace,’’ the official said.

Accounts vary as to how much Iranian money flow into the presidential palace. An Afghan political leader said he believed that Daudzai received between $1 million and $2 million every other month. A former diplomat who served in Afghanistan said sometimes single payments totaled as much as $6 million.

A senior NATO officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, declined to discuss whether Daudzai was receiving money from Iran. But he said the Iranian government was conducting an aggressive campaign inside Afghanistan to undermine the US and NATO mission and to gain influence in politics.

The NATO officer said Iran’s intelligence agencies were playing both sides of the conflict, providing financing, weapons, and training to the Taliban. Iranian agents also financed the political campaigns of several Afghans who ran in last month’s parliamentary election, the NATO officer said.

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