World News

Afghan president's brother denies drugs link

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s half-brother denied a report on Thursday that British forces had seized tons of opium on his land last month, saying it was aimed at hurting the president a week before an election.

Afghan men harvest opium in a poppy field in a village in the Golestan district of Farah province, May 5, 2009. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

The German magazine Stern reported British special forces found several tons of opium in Kandahar province on land belonging to Ahmad Wali Karzai, who is head of the provincial council as well as the president’s half-brother.

“This is the time of the election. They are just doing this to hurt the president, that’s all,” Ahmad Wali Karzai told Reuters by telephone.

Asked who he blamed for trying to discredit his brother he said: “I don’t know. Whoever wrote this.”

The president has long been dogged by accusations that members of his powerful family are involved in the drugs trade. He has repeatedly said he has seen no proof.

A British embassy spokeswoman said of the reported seizure: “We don’t comment on operations.”

Afghanistan produces some 90 percent of the global supply of opium used to make heroin, and the Karzai family’s native Kandahar is one of the main opium-producing provinces.

The Karzai brothers’ father was chief of a large landholding clan in the province, which was also the birthplace of the Taliban and remains one of the strongholds of the insurgency. U.S. officials say the drug trade helps fund the fighters.

Ahmad Wali Karzai said he was unaware of any opium seizure, and that if it had occurred, there was no evidence it had taken place on land belonging to him.

“Can they show us this land? Who does this land belong to? I challenge the British special forces to show me the land which belongs to me where they found this so-called opium,” he said.

“Why the last seven years they keep saying the president’s brother is involved in drugs, when there is no proof?”

Hamid Karzai is the front-runner to place first in the election on August 20, but a poll this week suggests he may not win the outright majority needed to avoid a run-off against former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

Ahmad Wali Karzai is also a candidate in the election, seeking to retain his position on the provincial council.