U.S. official: Afghanistan corruption isn't limited to Afghans

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 12, 2010 

KABUL — Only a fourth of the ongoing corruption investigations by U.S. oversight officials in Afghanistan are strictly targeting Afghan suspects, the top U.S. investigator in Afghanistan said Tuesday in Kabul. The other three-fourths are investigating transactions that involve at least one Western suspect.

While he wouldn't identify officials or companies under investigation, the figures seem to support Afghan government contentions that corruption is every bit as widespread among Western officials as it is in their own ranks.

"About 40 percent of our investigations involve procurement fraud," said Raymond J. DiNunzio, the assistant inspector general for the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction. U.S. and Western governments frequently issue large contracts to support military and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, for labor, security guards and building materials, for example.

DiNunzio, a 23-year FBI veteran, promised that "we have remedies to recover the U.S. taxpayer money." DiNunzio spoke at a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul alongside retired Marine Maj. Gen. Arnold Fields, the top SIGAR investigator. The special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction reports quarterly to Congress, the secretary of defense and the secretary of state.

SIGAR released its latest quarterly report last month, which sharply criticized the Afghan government as under-resourcing its own investigative body, the High Office of Oversight.

With government officials from Afghan President Hamid Karzai's first term making way for new officials, DiNunzio warned that it will get tougher to prosecute past corruption in the outgoing government.

"We have our work cut out for us," he said.

As the number of U.S. troops rises, so will the number of investigators. Fields anticipates increasing his staff to 132 investigators, up from 90 two years ago.

Fields was asked what lessons his office had learned from previous work in Iraq. "The lesson learned is that if we are going to invest this money into a country ... then probably we should have set up SIGAR eight years ago."

Day reports for The Telegraph in Macon, Ga.

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