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Afghan prosecutor says he's not being pressured to go easy on suspected corrupt officials

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan's top prosecutor defended himself Tuesday against allegations that he's being pressured not to go after politically powerful figures accused of corruption — an issue that has undermined public trust in President Hamid Karzai's struggling government.

Mohammad Ishaq Aloko also accused U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry of overstepping his diplomatic authority by suggesting that he step down as attorney general if he wasn't going to charge an Afghan banker in a corruption case.

"It is against all diplomatic ethics that the U.S. ambassador is telling me: 'If you don't put this person in prison, you must resign,'" Aloko told reporters, recounting a conversation he had with Eikenberry two weeks ago. "I am the attorney general of an independent country."

Caitlin Hayden, a spokesman for Eikenberry, did not comment on the conversation, saying the ambassador's discussions with Afghan officials were private.

"The U.S. Embassy has a regular dialogue and a strong partnership with the attorney general and his office, including robust mentoring and training programs," the embassy spokeswoman said. "The ambassador's discussions with his counterparts are private and we're not going to comment on them. The United States continues to respect that personnel decisions are for the Afghan government to make."

The U.S. and other donor nations, who need Karzai to be seen as a credible partner, are pushing him to clean up bribery, graft and corruption, which is hampering the government's efforts to gain the loyalty of people in the provinces outside the capital.

Karzai, who has set up an anti-corruption commission, insists that he does not condone or tolerate corruption. In a recent speech, he invited people to come forward with evidence of corruption even if it implicated his relatives, friends or government officials.

The attorney general held a news conference to rebut a story published Monday in The Washington Post, which alleged that top officials in the Karzai government were blocking corruption probes of political allies. The newspaper quoted U.S. officials as saying that among other things, Afghan prosecutors and investigators had been instructed to disregard evidence against executives of a major financial firm suspected of helping Afghan powerbrokers move millions of dollars out of the country.

"They are saying that I am under the pressure, but I'm not," Aloko said.

The attorney general said his conversation with Eikenberry involved allegations that Mohammad Rafi Azimi, deputy chairman of Afghan United Bank, was linked to the case against the former head of the Ministry of Hajj and Mosque, Sediq Chakari. Chakari, who has maintained his innocence, has been tied to the disappearance of travel funds for last year's annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

The attorney general's office has asked Interpol to arrest Chakari who is believed to be in Britain.

Aloko said he told Eikenberry that he did not have enough evidence to charge the banker.

"We are working based on the evidence and making decisions based on the evidence," he said. "We cannot put somebody in jail without evidence."