News - Afghanistan
Sixty-three individuals, including President Ashraf Ghani's economic advisor, Hazarat Omar Zakhelwal, have been accused of involvement in the Ministry of Defense (MoD) corruption scandal, which included the embezzlement of 100 million USD in fuel contract money from the Afghan government.
MP Abdul Rahim Ayoubi told TOLOnews of the notably large list of individuals that have been linked to the corruption case, which is the largest such controversy that has been exposed since the national unity government took power in September of 2014. "As for as I know, the exact number of people serving in government institutions and accused in the corruption case are around 63 people," Ayoubi said on Thursday
Ayoubi previously served close to President Ghani during his presidential campaign. He believes Zakhelwal is unlikely to face an investigation - let alone repercussions - for his involvement in the fuel contract scheme because he was a major donor to Ghani's campaign.
According to Ayoubi, the fuel contract case is not likely to be handled as thoroughly and transparently as the Kabul Bank corruption case was, since that scandal surrounded individuals close to former president Hamid Karzai, instead of those close to the new administration.
"Zakhelwal serves as a top government employee and he also served as a member of the Change and Continuity team during the presidential elections," Ayoubi said.
"I was also member of the same team, and I am aware that Zakhelwal provided financial support to the president during the elections, and now if he is brought to trial and justice, he also keeps documents against the president," he added. If those compromising documents were to fall into the hands of Ghani's opposition, Ayoubi maintained, it could cause a political crisis that no legal authority could reign in.
On the other hand, a source close to President Ghani, responding to the allegations on Thursday, maintained that Zakhelwal's name is not on the list of 63 individuals being investigated for the fuel contract scheme.
Omar Zakhelwal as Minister of Finance, Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal as Minister of Economy and Habibullah Ghalib as Minister of Justice all signed the MoD fuel contract that has garnered so much controversy while still serving under the Karzai administration. At the time, they served on the Special Procurement Commission formed within the Defense Ministry.
Former minister of economy Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal has confirmed that Mr. Zakhelwal served as Chairman of the Special Procurement Commission, and voiced the opinion that the economic advisor should be expected to answer for his role in the corruption case.
The special investigation team appointed to investigate the case has also accused the MoD Special Procurement Commission of primary involvement in the embezzlement scheme. "The special members who were serving in the commission had calculated the price of each liter fuel more than its real price purchased for the MoD and have signed the contract; therefore, we are suspicious about them," said Hamidullah Farooqi, the head of the MoD fuel contract investigation team.
Pointing to further corruption within the Defense Ministry, the Administrative Board of Parliament on Thursday also claimed that the ambush and beheading of Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers in Badakhshan province last week was the result of more senior defense officials illegally selling the military's fuel for profit.
"The most clear model of corruption in the Ministry of Defense is the beheading of the 28 ANA soldiers that happened in Badakhshan, because their vehicles' fuel was sold out by the corrupt and plunderers, and because of the fuel shortage they couldn't escape the Taliban area," House Deputy Secretary Irfanullah Irfan said on Thursday. "I call on the president to try anyone who is involved in this corruption case."
According to Parliament's Defense Committee, corruption exists at all levels of the MoD's contracting process. "Based on the statements of MoD generals, corruption exists in all contracts of the concerned ministry," said MP Ali Akbar Qasimi, the deputy of the committee.