Afghan appeals court acquits former British soldier

KABUL (Reuters) - A Kabul appeals court on Sunday acquitted a former British soldier convicted of bribery in Afghanistan, with a judge citing a lack of evidence in a case that tested confidence in the country’s fragile court system.

British former soldier Bill Shaw (L) talks with his Afghan former colleague Maiwand Limar during an appeals court session in Kabul July 3, 2010. Shaw was convicted of bribery in Afghanistan appeared in chains at the start of an appeal against a sentence that has placed the country's legal system under a cloud. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

Bill Shaw, 52, was originally given a two-year sentence in April after being found guilty by the newly established anti-corruption court of trying to pay a $25,000 bribe for the release of two vehicles impounded by the intelligence services.

“I thank the judge and the court for reading and understanding what I was trying to do,” a teary Shaw said after the ruling as he stood with his legs still in prison chains.

Shaw had repeatedly protested his innocence and said he thought he was paying a fine to an Afghan official, rather than an illegal bribe. The officials who took the money have since disappeared.

At the time of his arrest Shaw, who has been officially honoured by Britain’s Queen, was working as a manager for G4S, a company providing security for the British Embassy in Kabul.

The former Royal Military Police officer said he planned a brief vacation after his release from one of Kabul’s toughest jails, where he had been in protective custody, but would return to the country after that to resume work.

Shaw was detained with his co-defendant, Afghan bodyguard and translator Maiwand Limar, whose sentence the judge downgraded on Sunday to eight months from the previous two years.

Judge Gul Mohammad told a courtroom packed with British embassy officials, journalists and Shaw’s work colleagues that there had been insufficient evidence against the Briton under article number four of the penal code.

A shaking Limar said the ruling was unacceptable to him as he had been treated more harshly than Shaw, for whom he worked.

“This is unfair, am going to lodge a petition,” he said.

Limar’s cousin, a British-born Afghan, demanded an explanation as to why Limar was sentenced to prison and Shaw freed, but retreated from the court when a separate judge threatened him with arrest.

Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, has in the past blamed foreign contractors for much of the entrenched corruption in his country.

The UK-backed anti-corruption tribunal was established as part of efforts to curb the country’s endemic corruption problem, targeting mainly government ministers and officials.

(Writing by Rob Taylor; Editing by Sugita Katyal)

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