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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 October 2006, 10:54 GMT
Afghan customs chief 'removed by mafia'
By David Loyn
Developing World Correspondent

General Aminullah Amrkhel
Aminullah Amrkhel took a tough stand against heroin smuggling

The head of customs at Kabul airport claims he has been sacked for being too good at his job.

General Aminullah Amrkhel is now living in fear of his life at home.

While the general was in charge of customs, the number of smugglers arrested rose significantly, and when he was removed from his post earlier this month, he says that he was on the verge of breaking up a major crime ring that was smuggling drugs through the airport.

General Aminullah claims that a criminal "mafia" is now so powerful in Kabul that it had the power to have him removed from his job.

"This dismissal is unjust and I totally reject it. It is a plot against me and against the law. The same people who are supporting the mafia have got me out of my job," he said.

Now the Afghan attorney-general's office is threatening to arrest him for failure to answer their questions into alleged irregularities.

This is not the first time that there have been claims against him, in what looks like a concerted campaign to get him out of his job.

After investigators failed to find anything against the general earlier this year, they were sacked.

Others 'under threat'

In a BBC report in April, the general expressed his impatience at being obstructed while doing his job.

He released a remarkable tape showing a woman suspect demanding to be released, although when she was arrested she was carrying several kilograms of heroin strapped to her body.

She threatened the customs officers, claiming to have influential friends.

Her claims proved to be right when she was in fact released shortly afterwards, and was only re-arrested to face trial after Gen Aminullah personally appealed to the interior minister.

Kabul's head of criminal investigations, General Ali Shah Paktiawal believes that he is under threat too.

He has had the windows of his office painted over so that he does not present an easy target while sitting at work.

General Ali Shah Paktiawal
General Paktiawal fears he is a target for the mafia

He said: "Aminullah is my good friend. He is an honest man, the sort of man Afghanistan needs."

But he says that his case is different for now, in that although he is under threat from criminals, the government is not yet trying to obstruct him.

When I asked him why he is under threat, he answered with the same word used by Gen Aminullah - the mafia.

Gen Aminullah has had training in Britain, and won widespread international support for his tough stand at the airport.

It is one of the key transit points for the export of heroin, which is Afghanistan's largest foreign currency earner.

He claims to have been offered large bribes to look the other way on several occasions, but always turned them down.

He faced considerable problems in carrying out his job, working in the bomb-damaged airport, with second-hand equipment, but despite that he still managed to use intelligence reports to his advantage to stop many smugglers.

The international backing he won has not been enough to keep him in his post, and he now faces credible threats to his life.

As well as taking away his job, the government has removed his bodyguards.


SEE ALSO
Afghan ultimatum over corruption
12 Oct 06 |  South Asia
'Mafia' blamed for Afghan escape
01 Aug 06 |  South Asia
The heroin trail
22 May 06 |  South Asia
Losing the war on Afghan drugs
04 Dec 05 |  South Asia

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