AFGHAN President Hamid Karzai admitted last night his chief of staff had received “bags of money” from Iran.
But Mr Karzai insisted the payments were transparent and were a form of aid from a friendly country.
Mr Karzai confirmed a report in The New York Times – first denied by his office – that Umar Daudzai had been receiving the payments from Iranian ambassador Feda Hussein Maliki.
Cash payments “are done by various friendly countries to help the presidential office and to help the expenses”, Mr Karzai said at a press conference in Kabul.
“The government of Iran has been assisting us with five or six or seven hundred thousand euros once or twice every year, that is in official aid. He is receiving the money on my instructions.”
Mr Karzai angrily rejected reports that the Iranian payments were secret.
“This is nothing hidden. We are grateful for Iranian help in this regard. The United States is doing the same thing. They’re providing cash to some of our offices,” the Afghan President said.
Asked if the money came in bags as reported, he said: “It does give bags of money, yes, yes it does . . . it’s all the same, let’s not make this an issue.”
Thousands of Pentagon files leaked in July by WikiLeaks indicated that Iran is funding the Taliban nine years after the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime from power. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied the reports.
Answering a question on what the Iranian authorities wanted in return for their payments, Mr Karzai replied that they wanted good relations.
“They want good relations in return. Lots of other things in return, Afghanistan and Iran have neighbourly relations,” he said.
“We have also asked lots of things in return in this relationship, so it’s a relationship between neighbours and it will go on and we’ll continue to ask for cash help from Iran,” he said.
The New York Times had reported that both Mr Daudzai and Mr Karzai had declined to respond to written questions about their relationship with Iran.
The Iranian embassy in Kabul on Monday dismissed the report as “ridiculous and insulting”.
The newspaper, citing unnamed Afghan officials, said the payments totalled millions of dollars and went into a secret fund that Mr Daudzai and Mr Karzai have used to pay Afghan MPs, tribal elders and Taliban commanders to secure their loyalty.
Tehran in return is trying to expand its influence in the presidential palace in Kabul. “It’s basically a presidential slush fund,” one Western official told the newspaper. “Daudzai’s mission is to advance Iranian interests.”
The New York Times cited unnamed government officials as saying the Iranian payments were intended to secure the allegiance of Mr Daudzai, a former ambassador to Iran who advocates an anti-Western line to Mr Karzai and briefs the Afghan President every morning.
When Mr Karzai wrapped up an official visit to Iran last August, Mr Maliki brought to the presidential plane a large plastic bag filled with wads of euro bills and handed it to Mr Daudzai, according to the report. “This is the Iranian money,” the paper quotes an Afghan official as saying.
The senior US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, said last week that Iran had “a role” to play in Afghanistan and welcomed the Islamic republic’s participation in international talks on the situation, held in Rome.