| ||Lucrative Afghan Oil Deal Was Awarded Properly, Karzai Says|
The New York Times
By Graham Bowley
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KABUL - President Hamid Karzai, responding to recent allegations that insiders close to him are plundering the nation’s mineral wealth, said Sunday that the United States and British governments had given their imprimatur as to how a lucrative oil contract was awarded.
Mr. Karzai’s office put out a statement saying that he met Saturday with the American and British ambassadors to Kabul to clarify recent reports of bias and that both men had agreed that the concession awarded to a Chinese company and a local Afghan company was done so transparently and fairly.
“The U.S. and U.K. ambassadors confirmed the transparency and fairness exercised in the Amu Darya oil tender,” according to the statement, which was accompanied by a photograph of the United States ambassador, Ryan C. Crocker, and other officials meeting with Mr. Karzai and the Afghan mines minister, Wahidullah Shahrani. The statement said experts from the American and British governments had properly audited the process by which the contract was awarded and it was done according to international best practices. Although it is unusual for a foreign government to claim independently the support of outside nations against internal criticism, the United States on Sunday supported Mr. Karzai’s assertion.
“We have no problems with the characterizations in the news release and we have nothing more to add,” said Gavin Sundwall, a spokesman for the American Embassy in Kabul. The British Embassy in Kabul offered no comment.
In the past few years, vast deposits of untapped mineral wealth worth billions of dollars have been identified in Afghanistan, and the Afghan government hopes these deposits of copper, oil, gold, iron ore and critical industrial metals like lithium could provide valuable revenue for the country as international financial support begins to wind down. It is in the process of negotiating a series of contracts with companies to develop the projects.
Afghanistan’s National Security Office asked the country’s attorney general earlier this month to investigate allegations that Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful warlord and political rival of Mr. Karzai’s based in northern Afghanistan, had pressured Chinese engineers who were starting preparatory work on the Amu Darya oil field, demanding illegal payouts.
General Dostum and his political bloc, the National Front, denied the allegation and accused Mr. Karzai of trying to protect the interests of the Watan Group, an Afghan company associated with Mr. Karzai’s family that, along with the Chinese National Petroleum Company, had won the contract to operate the oil field with a Chinese company.
“The main goal of the government and its leadership is not protection of the national wealth but is protection of interests of shareholders of the project who have family relations with the officials in the government,” the party said in a statement.
The National Security Office’s allegations against General Dostum prompted a reaction by a Republican congressman from California, Representative Dana Rohrabacher, who has sharply criticized Mr. Karzai and what he has described as the “corrupt little clique” around him.
Mr. Rohrabacher, in a letter this month to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, said General Dostum believed that “the benefits of such energy development must accrue to the Afghan people and not a corrupt Afghan leader who sees the Afghan government as a family business.”
Local Afghan news media reported that on Sunday government ministers attended an opening ceremony to mark the beginning of extraction of oil from the Amu Darya field.