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Karzai faces $3bn corruption charge over oil contract

The Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai, pictured, is facing allegations of corruption for awarding a $3bn (€2.36bn) oil deal to a company run by a cousin who was jailed in the US for drug trafficking.

Watan Oil and Gas, controlled by Mr Karzai's notorious cousins Rashid and Rateb Popal, won the oil extraction contract in a joint venture with a Chinese state-owned company despite accusations that another of their companies used US funds to pay protection money to the Taliban.

The 25-year deal gives Watan and the China National Petroleum Company access to an estimated 160 million barrels of oil from three fields in northern Afghanistan.

Minerals, oil and gas worth up to €2.5trn are estimated to be beneath Afghanistan.

The oil deal in the Amu Darya Basin had been seen as a model for further fossil fuel contracts, but diplomats and activists are now concerned it heralds the carving up of Afghanistan's resources by political and business mafias.

The selection of a group controlled by Mr Karzai's cousins Rashid and Rateb Popal, who served nearly nine years in jail in New York in the 1990s on drug charges, has caused particular alarm.

"I think we all desperately hoped that British soldiers were dying for something more noble than helping Karzai's drug- dealing cousins to sell gas from northern Afghanistan to the Chinese," one former senior British diplomat to Kabul, said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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