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Afghan Cabinet Nominee Convicted In Estonia Withdrawn

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani introduced cabinet nominees to parliament on January 20.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani introduced cabinet nominees to parliament on January 20.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's nominee for agriculture minister has been withdrawn from a parliamentary vote required for confirming cabinet members to their posts.

After his name was discovered on an Interpol most-wanted list and his conviction over tax evasion in Estonia became public, Mohammad Yaqub Haidari was left out from the 24 cabinet nominees Ghani introduced to parliament on January 20.

Haidari has been surrounded by controversy after screen grabs of his Interpol listing began circulating over social media on January 17.

The 52-year-old has denied any wrongdoing but has acknowledged being on the Interpol most-wanted list and doing business in Eastern Europe and Russia.

"I am being targeted by a political conspiracy," he told Reuters. "When you enter the world of business and politics, this is what happens."

The Interpol listing says he is wanted in Estonia for "large-scale tax evasion" and "fraudulent conversion."

Afghan authorities say they are probing Haidari and seem to have acted on their pledge to withdraw his name from the cabinet nominees if it appeared in the Interpol's most-wanted list.

The Estonian Prosecutor-General's Office told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on January 19 that a man named Mohammad Yaqub Haidari was found guilty by a county court in 2011 of "tax evasion and breach of trust, and he was punished by imprisonment for a term of four years as an aggregate punishment."

The office added that two higher courts, including the Supreme Court in 2012, kept the sentence "unchanged."

The Prosecutor-General's Office says Haidari never returned to Estonia after he applied for permission to leave the country temporarily a few years back. "At present, Mr. Haidari is internationally wanted for the service of sentence," the office said in a written reply.

Ahto Lobjakas, an Estonian analyst, says Haidari's story dates to the 1990s. "Mr. Haidari came to Estonia and quickly became the head of a relatively large dairy operation," he told Radio Free Afghanistan. "According to officials, he evaded taxes together with damages [amounting to] 1.3 million euros ($1.5 million)."

Lobjakas says Estonian officials seem to be resigned to the idea that Haidari might never return. "I think we have made peace with the idea that he will never meet justice in Estonia," he said.

After his inauguration in September, Ghani vowed to root out widespread corruption and had promised a professional and clean cabinet.

After topping the list of the world's most corrupt countries for years, Afghanistan ranked fourth on watchdog Transparency International's list in 2014.