The Guardian08/09/2012By Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul [Printer Friendly Version]
DIPLOMATS FILING into the conference room at Afghanistan’s finance ministry had expected a bland update on accountability targets from the finance minister.
Instead, he brought out personal financial papers and begged for support in the face of what he described as politically motivated corruption allegations, eventually breaking down in tears.
Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal, a young technocrat who has been lionised as a dynamic reformer by many western diplomats, said he had “acted naively” in his handling of $2 million of campaign funds for President Hamid Karzai’s re-election campaign in 2009, but denied any wrongdoing.
He launched an impassioned 45-minute defence of his behaviour, waving bank statements and tax receipts, and said he feared for his life and his family’s safety because of his role in trying to clear up a $900 million banking scandal, according to sources who attended the meeting, or heard first-hand accounts.
One diplomat described the meeting as “more emotional than factual”. Mr Zakhilwal began weeping toward the end of the meeting and had to leave the room briefly, sources said, but he returned to finish his talk.
However, Mr Zakhilwal denied he had asked for support, or that he had admitted any mistakes in handling election funds.
“I have not asked donors for help, in fact don’t need their help. I had invited them to brief them on what was going on and about my decision to ask the attorney general to investigate both the accusation against me as well as violations of my rights,” he said in an emailed message.