Afghanistan minister rejects US corruption allegations

Afghanistan's Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal - 7 June 2010 Mr Zakhilwal said his government had little control over foreign aid money

Afghanistan's finance minister has rejected US allegations that government corruption is to blame for the loss of billions of dollars in aid money.

Omar Zakhilwal said foreign contractors were to blame for taking the bulk of $4bn (£2.6bn) that has reportedly left the country in recent years.

He said his government had little control over foreign aid money.

US lawmakers voted on Wednesday to cut almost $4bn (£2.6bn) in aid to the government of Afghanistan.

The vote followed a report in the Wall Street Journal claiming that US investigators believed "Afghan officials and their associates were sending billions of diverted US aid and logistics dollars and drug money to financial safe havens abroad".

Investigation call

Mr Zakhilwal said it was his ministry which revealed the money was leaving the country.

"We strongly believe that the bulk of this money is from the huge contracts that our international partners have given out directly to big companies, particularly private security companies, without any involvement from the Afghan government."

Mr Zakhilwal said his government wanted an international investigation to establish whose money it was that had been diverted out of the country.

He acknowledged that corruption was a problem in Afghanistan but said the government was best equipped to handle the distribution of aid.

"Aid money that is given through the government, the internationals who are here on the ground will tell you it's better managed by the government than managed outside."

The Afghan government received directly about 20% of the foreign aid that enters the country, says the BBC's Quentin Sommerville in Kabul.

US Congresswoman Nita Lowey, chair of the House of Representatives subcommittee responsible for aid appropriations, has demanded that an audit is carried out of billions of dollars of past funds.

She said that alleged corruption in the Afghan government made taxpayer money hard to justify.

The money could be reinstated in a few months, after a review of Kabul's efforts to tackle the issue.

The subcommittee has not cut military funds, which are to be debated in a separate bill.

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