Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal allegedly threatened to kill his country’s Washington, D.C commercial attache, according to an email exchange obtained by BuzzFeed.
The 44-year-old finance minister said he would like to cut Shakib Noori, Afghan’s commercial attache at the Afghan Embassy in Washington, “into pieces,” Noori charged in an email sent on April 28, 2012.
Noori wrote of the alleged threats in a detailed message to the finance minister, carbon copied to more than a dozen in the elite community of Afghans who make up the highest levels in that country’s government.
“You called me from your Dubai phone number (971*********) on April 26, 2012 at 4:13PM (Washington DC Time) threatening my life, you said; you will cut me into pieces. You said; you will tear me apart. You said; you will kill me in Afghanistan. You said; you will kill my family. You’ve cursed my father and my mother. You used the most disgusting words ever. I have clearly recorded your voice. A copy of that will be sent to everyone so that they know your “real” character and personality. I will make sure - a copy of your recorded voice reaches to H.E. President Hamid Karzai.”
Zakhilwal, who spent part of his career in Canada, is a top member of President Hamid Karzai’s cabinet and his ministry is an important symbol of an Afghan government struggling to present itself as a functioning modern state. Karzai’s administration has been dogged by corruption scandals and the American government has wrestled with how to oversee hundreds of millions of dollars in financial support.
Noori went on in the email to say he is taking the threats from the finance minister seriously, claiming his family fears for their lives.
“The way you yelled at me on the phone,” Noori writes, “You seemed a person that could be a serious threat to our life.”
The dispute, according to the emails, centers around a dinner gone bad at Cafe Milano, the trendy Washington, D.C, hotspot, where the city’s foreign and domestic power brokers alike chow down on decent Italian food and swill overpriced drinks.
In April, during the finance minister’s visit to Washington, he had a late evening dinner with a female Iranian American lawyer who is based in Kabul, according to the emails.
The dinner was to discuss the contracting firm DynCorp’s “tax dispute” with an Afghan company, according an email response from the finance minister’s, also part of the email chain.
The lawyer referred to in the emails, who represents DynCorp, works for the U.S. legal firm Holland & Knight.
Unexpectedly, the finance minister and the lawyer were seated at Cafe Milano next to an Afghan delegation made up of Noori and three other Afghan officials.
“For your information, our dinner conversation in the restaurant was focused on DynCorp’s tax dispute,” the finance minister says in an email to the Afghan Ambassador to the U.S., Eklil Hakimi.
The finance minister complained, in his email, of a “mass circulated” email distributed among influential Afghans.
The widely forwarded account of the dinner, which was also published on an Afghan gossip website, made it seem like he was behaving inappropriately, according to his email.
According to an Afghan official familiar with the drama, Minister Zakhilwal was upset because of the allegations that he was accepting a bribe and having improper relations with the lawyer.
“To my total disgust, yesterday a malicious and character assassinating story was written about that dinner,” the minister wrote in his email, blaming “Mr. Shakib Noori,” for the story.
Noori, for his part, denied being the source for “the damaging story” about the minister’s “so-called business dinner,” according to his email.
This isn’t the first time Zakhilwal has found himself at the center of a controversy.
According to a New Yorker story from last year, Zakhilwal “was one of many Afghan leaders and businessmen who, collectively, accepted tens of millions of dollars in gifts and bribes—some sources say as much as a hundred million dollars—from executives at Kabul Bank,” referring to the biggest financial scandal in Afghanistan’s recent history.
A spokesperson for the Afghan Embassy in Washington declined to comment.
Request for comments from Noori and Zakhilwal were not answered.
Over the last few weeks, the email chain has gone viral, getting passed around among Afghan government officials, and even posted to Facebook.
The Email Chain
————— Forwarded message —————
From: Shakib Noori
Date: Sat, 28 Apr 2012 01:41:11 -0400
To: Omar Zakhilwal
Cc: Ambassador Eklil Hakimi, [other members of the Afghan elite, Holland & Knight attorney]
Subject: RE: Important
Dear Minister Zakhilwal:
It’s with deep regrets that your so-called business dinner turned out into a damaging story in Washington D.C. In your email, you have accused me with baseless allegation that the malicious story was written “most certainly by Mr. Shakib Noori”.
I would like to make this clear that I have no malicious intentions to write about anyone, nor I have the character to interfere in someone’s personal life. As we have worked together, you know it very well that I don’t have that kind of Farsi writing capability to write stories.
You have had dinner with Ms. [redacted] at the Café Milano Washington D.C while I and the rest of the respected Afghan delegation (who you mentioned their names in your email) had dinner. It was quite a coincident that our tables were next each other at the same restaurant. As far restaurant selection, it was suggest by H. E. Governor Delawari to dine at the Café Milano without knowing you were there. I believe there were more Afghans in that restaurant as well as a group Iranian and Turkish delegation. Whether your dinner was a business meeting or personal, I have nothing to do with it. You can NOT accuse me for circulating of the email you mentioned without having any evidences.
You called me from your Dubai phone number (971*********) on April 26, 2012 at 4:13PM (Washington DC Time) threatening my life, you said; you will cut me into pieces. You said; you will tear me apart. You said; you will kill me in Afghanistan. You said; you will kill my family. You’ve cursed my father and my mother. You used the most disgusting words ever. I have clearly recorded your voice. A copy of that will be sent to everyone so that they know your “real” character and personality. I will make sure - a copy of your recorded voice reaches to H.E. President Hamid Karzai.
My family and I are considering this threat as a serious threat to me and my family who are now living in Afghanistan. Unlike you, we are not the people with power, and people that make threat based on power that the government has given them. My wife and I are feared of your serious threat in Washington as well as my family in Afghanistan. We have to protect ourselves. The way you yelled at me on the phone, you seemed a person that could be a serious threat to our life. My wife and I have not been able to sleep ever since you made this threat.
Kindly note that I was never fired from any positions I have worked for the past ten years. It is very clear to everyone that wherever I am today is because of my talent and education. You remember it well; I was promoted as the advisor to Minister of Commerce and Industry when H.E. Amin Farhang was the Minister. I have an official letter by which I was offered a better position at that time. You did NOT fire me.
It is a shame that you as a high political figure of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan having personal or business dinner at a public place around 10PM, but you blamed me for circulation of the email among all others present in that place.
I hope this note justifies your baseless claims and not to drag it further to attract negativity towards your personal life.
Commercial Attaché, Washington D.C
From: [Omar Zakhilwal]
Sent: Friday, April 27, 2012 4:55 PM
To: Ambassador Eklil Hakimi
Dear Amb Hakimi;
Earlier this week when I was in DC, I was invited for dinner by an Iranian American lawyer Ms [redacted] (copied above). Ms. [redacted] is a Kabul based lawyer with Holland & Knight LLP (“H&K”) firm who deals primarily with foreign companies’ tax issues and therefore with the Ministry of Finance. I have, therefore, known Ms. [redacted] and have met her there on tax related matters.
For your information, our dinner conversation in the restaurant was focused on DynCorp’s tax dispute in Afghanistan, the response of which was sent to me by Ms [Redacted] after the conversation as sent to you below. This meeting in fact was properly requested through Mr. Ibrahemi(copied) in the WB who takes care of my schedule in DC.
At the same restaurant the next table was reserved by Shakib Noori, Mr. Adib Farhadi, Mr. Delawari and Mr. Bhatija (all copied). We had started our dinner earlier, finished our conversation - Ms. [redacted] went her way and I returned to my hotel - that was all there was to it in that dinner. The response from Ms. [redacted] came 2 days later as I send it to you below and is very indicative of what our meeting was above.
However, to my total disgust, yesterday a malicious and character assasinating story was written about that dinner, most certainly by Mr. Shakib Noori - who I had fired a few years ago at AISA - and was mass-circulated to email addresses in Kabul. If you read the letter carefully, as copied below, not only is this letter a deliberate, cruel and baseless attack on my personality and personal life, as well as that of Ms. [redacted], there are references to the President in a disrepectful way.
This is an extremely serious and damaging letter, put together and mass-circulated by a diplomat of your embassy. I would like to ask you to please take appropriate action on this as I will also be sending this directly to Kabul to the levels that have recommended and cleared Mr. Noori.
Empower your Business with BlackBerry® and Mobile Solutions from Etisalat
Date: Fri, 27 Apr 2012 02:04:18 +0000
Dear Minister Zakhilwal,
Please find attached the memo regarding DynCorp’s tax dispute involving Yasmin ARA. I know you are traveling over the next few weeks but I just wanted you to have this in case you wanted to share it with you adviser. It was a pleasure seeing you in Washington and I have your travels are safe.
****IRS CIRCULAR 230 DISCLOSURE: TO ENSURE COMPLIANCE WITH REQUIREMENTS IMPOSED BY THE IRS, WE INFORM YOU THAT ANY TAX ADVICE CONTAINED IN THIS COMMUNICATION (INCLUDING ANY ATTACHMENTS) IS NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY HOLLAND & KNIGHT LLP TO BE USED, AND CANNOT BE USED, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (I) AVOIDING TAX-RELATED PENALTIES UNDER THE INTERNAL REVENUE CODE, OR (II) PROMOTING, MARKETING, OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED MATTER HEREIN.****
NOTE: This e-mail is from a law firm, Holland & Knight LLP (“H&K”), and is intended solely for the use of the individual(s) to whom it is addressed. If you believe you received this e-mail in error, please notify the sender immediately, delete the e-mail from your computer and do not copy or disclose it to anyone else. If you are not an existing client of H&K, do not construe anything in this e-mail to make you a client unless it contains a specific statement to that effect and do not disclose anything to H&K in reply that you expect it to hold in confidence. If you properly received this e-mail as a client, co-counsel or retained expert of H&K, you should maintain its contents in confidence in order to preserve the attorney-client or work product privilege that may be available to protect confidentiality.
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