Afghanistan election officials arrested for vote fraud

Country's top prosecutor says he has evidence that senior election workers were involved in fraud during the September 18 parliamentary vote.

KABUL // Top Afghan prosecutors said Thursday they had arrested senior election officials and opened new criminal investigations into vote fraud, dismissing as "premature" the announcement of final results.

Mohammad Ishaq Alko, the country's leading prosecutor, said he had evidence that election workers were involved in fraud during the September 18 parliamentary vote.

He criticised the Independent Election Commission (IEC) for "prematurely" releasing results before his criminal investigations had been completed.

Analysts say President Hamid Karzai's support in the new parliament appears to have weakened and his main opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, claimed Wednesday that his loyalists won more than 90 seats in the 249-member chamber.

The IEC on Wednesday announced 238 seats from the controversial election, leaving 11 unendorsed from the troubled province of Ghazni, where Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, failed to win a single seat.

Karzai's office has refused to comment on the results. Sporadic protests have broken out around the country in support of losing candidates.

An official involved in the election told AFP on condition of anonymity that low Pashtun representation "is something Karzai is not happy with."

Investigations into massive fraud previously cancelled a quarter of the 5.6 million votes cast, following more than 5,000 complaints of fraud, and disqualified 24 people declared to have won under preliminary results.

"We have evidence that people's votes were traded in Kabul and Dubai," Alko told Radio Azadi, a Kabul-based news station also known as Radio Free Europe.

He said eight people had been arrested.

His deputy, Rahmatullah Nazari, told AFP that four people, two of them senior election officers, had been arrested and a hunt for a fifth man -- a UN-affiliated election official had been launched.

"They're big, they're in decision-making positions," Nazari said in reference to the two election workers. The other two were money dealers involved in vote fraud, Nazari said.

He said the vote, Afghanistan's second post-Taliban parliamentary election, was tainted by widespread fraud involving election officials.

He accused the election body of not cooperating with his investigators "because they have committed massive fraud and they don't want this to be revealed". He refused to give names of those involved.

Nazari showed AFP a letter which he said was "contract" for a deal worth 220,000 dollars between "an election candidate" and an alleged election worker.

"The announcement of the election results by the commission was premature. Our investigations had not finished.

"It would have been transparent, lawful and better if it had been released after we'd finished our investigations," he said.

Nazari criticised the endorsement of Wednesday's results by the UN mission in Kabul, saying "this is not acceptable for us".

In the western city of Herat, about 500 people supporting a disqualified candidate went on the march, shouting slogans against the election commission.

In northern Samangan province, hundreds of men blocked a highway protesting another ruling, local police said.

Leading Afghan election watchdog Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA), said the ballot was "full of flaws."

"FEFA observed numerous irregularities at every stage of this year’s electoral process, from the nomination of candidates through the adjudication of complaints," it said.

"With the final results of the parliamentary elections announced, FEFA believes it is time for all stakeholders to commit to and begin the process of electoral reform," it said.