Afghanistan's Minister of Mines was accused of having accepted a 30 million dollar bribe to award a huge development project to a Chinese state firm, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday, citing a US official.
The revelation comes the same week the Afghan Government formed a major crime unit to tackle corruption, and just one day before Hamid Karzai is sworn in as Afghan president for a second term, with the United States pressuring him to rid the war-torn country of its endemic graft and cronyism.
Minister Mohammad Ibrahim Adel is alleged to have been paid a sum of roughly 30 million dollars and reported with "a high degree of certainty" by an unnamed US official familiar with military intelligence reports, the Post quoted. The US official said that the payment took place in Dubai, around December 2007 when the China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) was awarded a 2.9-billion-dollar contract to exploit the Aynak copper deposit in Logar province, one of the biggest copper deposits in the world.
Last year, Adel told AFP that Aynak has more than 11 million tonnes of copper valued at some 88 billion dollars, and is expected to bring the government 400 million dollars annually in fees and taxes. If this allegation is proved true then it would be a major blow to a country whose government is struggling for credibility among an impoverished population.
Afghanistan's few economic bright spots lie in mining, amidst a nation crippled by a growing Taliban-led insurgency. Adel also said that significant deposits of copper, iron, gold, oil and gas, and coal, as well as precious gems such as emeralds and rubies are largely untapped.
Reports say that the Afghan and American officials were outraged at the contract going to the MCC and complained that Adel did not give the Western firms a fair chance to compete for the bid.
Amidst the growth of fear of further corruption, the ministry is now reviewing offers for a major iron ore deposit mining project known as Haji Gak, in which MCC is the frontrunner, the Post said. "This guy has done this already; we're in the same situation again," said the US official.
In an interview with the Post, Adel denied receiving any bribes or illegal payments during his three-year tenure as minister, and said that the MCC's compensation package, including an 808-million-dollar bonus payment to Kabul, was far larger than that of other firms.
"I am responsible for the revenue and benefit of our people," Adel said. "All the time I'm following the law and the legislation for the benefit of the people."
US and Afghan officials have warned that incompetence and corruption have scared off potential investors.