Afghan President Hamid Karzai confirmed Monday that
his office had received cash from the US government.
His remark came after the New York Times reported that millions of dollars in cash was paid by the US Central Intelligence Agency to his office for more than a decade, citing US and Afghan officials.
"Yes, the office of the national security adviser has been receiving support from the US government in the last ten years, not on a large scale, but on a small scale," Karzai was quoted as saying in a statement issued by his office.
Karzai, who is visiting Finland, said that the cash was given for "operational and health purposes" and "to pay rent for the houses," giving no further details.
"The aid was very useful and we are thankful," he said.
Khalil Roman, who served as Karzai's deputy chief of staff from 2002 until 2005, told the newspaper that the money "came in secret, and it left in secret."
The "ghost money" was left in suitcases, backpacks, and plastic shopping bags to buy influence, the sources said, but it only added to the rampant corruption and empowered warlords.
"The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan was the United States," one US official was quoted in the Times report as saying.
The payment ranged from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, the sources said.
A former Afghan deputy foreign minister said other countries pay the president's office directly to "meet their goals."
"There is no doubt that various foreign sources are paying cash to the president's office from time to time," Mahmoud Saikal told dpa.
"I think such big amounts of money are meant to keep the president and his team in power and also to pave the way to prolong his rule."
According to officials familiar with the payments mentioned in the Times article, the goal was to maintain access to Karzai and his inner circle and to guarantee the agency's influence.
The report also said much of the money went to paying off warlords and politicians, many with ties to the drug trade and, in some cases, the Taliban insurgents.
In the past, Iran was also accused of delivering millions of dollars in cash to the president's office for influence. US and Western officials criticized Iran's role as well as Afghanistan for taking the money, when the story came out in 2010.
"It is also possible that the money is collected in private accounts for the president and his family's future," Saikal told dpa. "Different countries try to meet their Afghan goals at various times.
"The goals can be met in a legitimate way via official channels of the government and the parliament," he said. "But at the same time these countries prefer to bring cash to the palace directly as the easiest way due to a weak governance system."
Handing out cash has been standard procedure for the CIA in Afghanistan since the start of the war, the Times report said.
"During the 2001 invasion, agency cash bought the services of numerous warlords, including Muhammad Qasim Fahim, the current first vice president," a US official was quoted as saying.
"We paid them to overthrow the Taliban."
The report also said Karzai's half brother Ahmed Wali Karzai was paid by the CIA to run a militia force in the southern region until he was assassinated in 2011.
A former advisor to Karzai told the Times the president and his aides pressed for payments to be routed through his palace to buy the warlords' loyalty.
The newspaper said there was no evidence that Karzai personally received any of the money, according to Afghan officials, while the cash was handled by his National Security Council.
Afghanistan is rated by Transparency International as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
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