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Two Afghan Ministers Summoned In Corruption Probe


Afghan President Hamid Karzai
KABUL (Reuters) -- Two Afghan cabinet ministers are being investigated under suspicion of embezzlement, a deputy attorney general said today, at a time when President Hamid Karzai faces tough Western pressure to clean up his government.

Fazel Ahmad Faqiryar declined to name the two ministers, but told Reuters that other officials were also being targeted by the inquiry.

"If the ministers insist and don't show up for the interrogation, we have other legal means with which to proceed," said Faqiryar.

Karzai, sworn in last week for a second five-year term after an election marred by fraud, has been under pressure by his Western backers to tackle widespread corruption.

He is due to name his slate of cabinet ministers in coming weeks, and there has been widespread speculation as to whether ministers would be dropped or prosecuted for corruption.

Several media reports have emerged in the past week of ministers being accused of bribery and other corrupt practices, but Faqiryar's remarks were the first official confirmation of a probe involving cabinet members.

Karzai's government announced two weeks ago it was setting up a new anticorruption unit, although U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the measures still fell short.

In his inauguration speech Karzai pledged to end a "culture of impunity" and said he would name competent and professional ministers, drawing praise from Clinton and other Western officials.

U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to announce a decision soon on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, and U.S. officials say he wants to see evidence that Karzai is a reliable, trustworthy partner.

Aleem Siddique, spokesman for the UN mission in Kabul, said the move was a step in the right direction.

"Recent action that we have seen is encouraging and must be continued robustly if the authorities are to build confidence," he told Reuters. "The Afghan people and the international community expect the authorities to root out corruption wherever it is identified."

Faqiryar said officials at the Religious Affairs Ministry were among those being investigated, but he did not say whether that included the minister, Sadiq Chakari.

Chakari confirmed on November 22 that two officials from his ministry were under investigation.