KABUL – The mayor of Kabul continued to run Afghanistan's capital Wednesday despite being sentenced to four years in jail on corruption charges, raising questions about President Hamid Karzai's campaign to prove he's serious about tackling graft and bribery in the government.
Mayor Abdul Ahad Sahebi was found guilty Monday of awarding a contract for a city project without competition. An Afghan court sentenced him to four years in jail and ordered him to repay more than $16,000 involved in the contract.
Sahebi, who insists he is innocent, is free pending his appeal to a higher court, but is no longer legally mayor, officials said.
Still, Sahebi continued to run the city and meet with reporters Wednesday.
"I am mayor. I am continuing my job," Sahebi, 63, told The Associated Press in his office.
He said he has asked Karzai, members of parliament, the attorney general and the chief of the Supreme Court to investigate the case.
"I don't accept the court's decision," he said. "There is a conspiracy against me."
The government's inability to block Sahebi from continuing as mayor for two days highlights the weakness of a legal system that is being asked to get tough on corruption as part of Karzai's pledge to clean up the government.
If the case remains unresolved, it could put an early black mark on the president's anti-corruption push.
The attorney general's office on Tuesday sent city administration officials a letter stating that the mayor no longer had the right to run the city. He was released because of a request that he was too ill to be incarcerated, the office said.
"From the eyes of the attorney general, he is not mayor of Kabul," said Enyatullah Kamal, the office's judicial investigation chief. "It was a surprise that he has gone back to his job — that he dared to give a press conference. The court is the court in this country and nobody can stop the decision of the court. The court made a decision."
Officials with the Supreme Court said they were also shocked that Sahebi was back at work.
Mohammad Yaseen Usmani, the top official in the government's High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption, said any actions Sahebi attempted to take as mayor would be voided.
"He doesn't have this right to go back to this duty and sit in his office," Usmani said. "He doesn't have the authority to sign any document."
Usmani said Sahebi's ability to continue to work did not reflect badly on the anti-corruption campaign because it was up to the attorney general's office to keep the mayor from resuming his duties.
A spokesman for the president did not return calls seeking comment.
The deputy attorney general, Fazel Ahmad Faqiryar, said he is appealing to Sahebi to stop acting as mayor.
If that does not work, "tomorrow we will send police to stop him from working," Faqiryar said.
The top U.N. official for Afghanistan stressed at a news conference that existing laws need to be better implemented to truly fight corruption.
"The decisive element in order to fight corruption in Afghanistan is not the constant discussion of new mechanisms and new structures and new commissions," Norwegian Kai Eide said. "We may need that. But structures do exist. A legal system does exist that is able, to a large extent, to address corruption."
He did not directly address the mayor's case.
Usmani, of the anti-corruption office, insisted that the government is taking concrete steps to root out corruption.
He noted that ministers of Karzai's new Cabinet will need to complete financial disclosures before they can be approved by parliament. Four of the government's 25 ministers have failed to do so, he said.