(Reuters) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai earns $525 a month, has less than $20,000 in the bank and owns no land or property, according to a declaration of his assets on Sunday by an anti-graft body.
The assets of Karzai, whose remuneration is five times the national average, were published by the High Office for Oversight and anti-Corruption Commission as part of a decree aimed at providing greater transparency among officials.
Although the Taliban insurgency remains the greatest threat to Afghanistan’s stability, graft at almost every level of society remains a major complaint of ordinary Afghans and anyone doing business with the country.
The list makes no mention of assets held by Karzai’s brothers and other relatives, several of whom run businesses at home and abroad.
It said Karzai, who is married to a stay-at-home physician and has a young son, had jewelry and other valuables worth $11,036.
The anti-graft body is registering the assets of at least 2,000 officials — including ministers, members of parliament, senior military and police officers and provincial leaders — and will start publishing them this week.
“This covers assets held by officials, their wives and children below the age of 18,” Mohammad Yasin Usmani, the commission’s chief, told Reuters on Sunday.
Any official found to have withheld information risked prosecution, he said.
Senior current and former Afghan officials — including two of Karzai’s deputies — are believed to own buildings and assets worth tens of millions of dollars — at home and abroad.
Many got positions of power and influence after siding with U.S.-led forces that toppled the Taliban government in 2001 and have improved their positions through involvement in contracts awarded by foreign forces or government aid projects.
BANK ACCOUNT FROZEN
Police have been questioning 17 current and ex-ministers on suspicion of corruption including former religious affairs minister Sediq Chakari, who now lives in Britain and has had a bank account frozen with $700,000, an official source said.
While some of Afghanistan’s richest men are government officials, those behind Afghanistan’s billion dollar illicit narcotics trade are probably far wealthier.
Among the richest private individuals are believed to be the Safi brothers, who run a chain of businesses including an airline, hotels and construction firms, and Ehsanullah Bayat, who runs the largest national mobile phone firm and a private television channel.
While Karzai has acknowledged a corruption problem, he says it is exaggerated by Western media and insists the biggest source of graft is poor oversight of billions of dollars in aid contracts that dwarf Afghanistan’s budget.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in March Washington needed to do more to clean up its contract procedures.
The declaration of assets, signed by Karzai, said he earned $525 a month and had 15,635 euros ($18,762) and $134 in cash in two Commerzbank accounts in Germany.
(Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by David Fox and Janet Lawrence)