Afghan President Hamid Karzai's chief of staff, Umar Daudzai, has been receiving regular cash payment from Iran, which is trying to expand its interests in the Afghan presidential palace, The New York Times reported late on Saturday.
Citing unnamed Afghan and Western officials in Kabul, the newspaper said Iran had been using its influence to help drive a wedge between the Afghans and their US and NATO allies.
The payments, which officials say total millions of dollars, go into a secret fund that Daudzai and Karzai have used to pay Afghan lawmakers, tribal elders and even Taliban commanders to secure their loyalty, the report said.
"It's basically a presidential slush fund," one Western official is quoted by the paper as saying. "Daudzai's mission is to advance Iranian interests."
Daudzai and Karzai have both declined to respond to written questions about their relationship with Iran, The Times said, adding that an aide to Daudzai had dismissed the allegations as "rubbish."
Feda Hussein Maliki, the Iranian ambassador in Kabul, also declined to answer questions, the paper pointed out. But a spokesman for Maliki called the allegations "devilish gossip by the West and foreign media."
The Times cites unnamed officials as saying that the Iranian payments are intended to secure the allegiance of Daudzai, a former ambassador to Iran who consistently advocates an anti-Western line to Karzai and briefs Karzai every morning.
Last August, when President Karzai wrapped up an official visit to Iran, Maliki brought to the presidential plane a large plastic bag filled with wads of euro bills and handed it to Daudzai, according to the report.
"This is the Iranian money," the paper quotes an Afghan official as saying. "Many of us noticed this."