KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan is investigating a Cabinet nominee over allegedly being on an Interpol most-wanted list for tax evasion, a government spokesman said Sunday, in what could prove an embarrassment for President Ashraf Ghani, who has pledged to root out corruption.
The probe focuses on Mohammad Yaqub Haidari, 52, the nominee to oversee the country's Agriculture Ministry. Interpol lists an Afghan man with the same name, and who resembles Haidari, as being wanted in Estonia for "large-scale tax evasion" and "fraudulent conversion," without elaborating.
The Associated Press could not immediately reach Haidari for comment. Afghanistan's private Tolo television station first reported on Haidari's alleged appearance on the list Saturday night.
Nazifullah Salarzai, a presidential spokesman, said Sunday that if Haidari is wanted by Interpol, his nomination will be immediately withdrawn.
"If the investigation proves that the allegation against him is true, Afghan law will be enforced on him," Salarzai told the AP.
Government offices in Estonia were closed Sunday and officials there could not immediately be reached for comment.
But according to several Estonian media reports, Haidari is wanted by Estonian judicial authorities for tax evasion and suspected embezzlement in a case dating back to 2003. Haidari acted as the managing director of Estonian dairy company As Rapla Dairy until early that year, when the firm went bankrupt. A long court battle followed, with Haidari fleeing Estonia in 2006 and failing to show up for a mandatory court session the following year, the reports said.
Ghani announced his Cabinet nominations last week after a delay of more than three months. Aides have said Ghani is determined to preside over a meritocratic government and move away from the ethos of patronage and graft that characterized the previous 13 years under President Hamid Karzai. Ghani also said he didn't want to appoint anyone who previously held a ministerial post. Few had heard of Haidari prior to his nomination last week.
Associated Press writer Jari Tanner in Tallinn, Estonia contributed to this report.