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Afghan ministry denies bribe report

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Afghan minister accepted $30 million in bribes for mining contract, newspaper reports
  • U.S. officials are aware of the allegation, State Department spokesman says
  • He says it reflects concerns over corruption, which President Hamid Karzai takes seriously
RELATED TOPICS
  • Afghanistan
  • China

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- An Afghan government ministry is flatly denying a news report that a Chinese firm apparently got a contract for a big copper extraction project in Afghanistan after the agency took millions of dollars in bribe money.

Citing a U.S. official "familiar with military intelligence reports," The Washington Post on Wednesday reported that the "Afghan minister of mines accepted a roughly $30 million bribe to award the country's largest development project to a Chinese mining firm."

The Post story reflects U.S. concerns over corruption in the Afghan government, a problem that could affect future U.S. military and economic commitments.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Wednesday that American officials have seen the report and are aware of the allegation. He said the issue reflects concerns over corruption, a problem that President Hamid Karzai has taken seriously. He also said the "mining sector has great promise for Afghanistan's growth and prosperity."

The Mines Ministry was to hold a news conference Wednesday to discuss the report.

The report was published amid news that the same Chinese company -- the state-run China Metallurgical Group Corp., or MCC -- is apparently the "front-runner" for another mining project involving iron ore west of Kabul. The paper also says former and current U.S. and Afghan officials say "incompetence and corruption" have hurt the mining industry in a country with many natural resources.

The $2.9 billion copper extraction contract calls for a project in Logar province.

There is a "high degree of certainty that the alleged payment to Mohammad Ibrahim Adel was made in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, within a month of December 2007" when MCC got the contract, the U.S. official was quoted as saying.

Afghan and U.S. officials who worked on the bidding process said Adel "was biased toward the company and did not give a fair hearing to the proposals of Western firms."

"This guy has done this already; we're in the same situation again," said the official, making reference to the iron ore project.

Adel, interviewed by the Post, denied taking bribes and said MCC's "investment -- including plans to build a railroad and a 400-megawatt power plant, and to make an $808 million bonus payment to the Afghan government -- far exceeded that of other firms."

"I am responsible for the revenue and benefit of our people," Adel said. "All the time I'm following the law and the legislation for the benefit of the people."

But a former American adviser to the ministry is quoted as saying that "there's a pattern of improprieties that have gone on. We do know that the World Bank procedures and the government of Afghanistan procedures were badly breached repeatedly."

"There is every reason to believe there were probably gratuities exchanged," the adviser said.