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Senator puts hold on some Afghan aid over Karzai 'ghost money'

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) questions members of the panel testifying before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee in Washin
Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) questions members of the panel testifying before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee in Washin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Monday he is holding up millions of dollars in U.S. aid to Afghanistan until President Barack Obama's administration explains the rationale behind more than a decade of cash payments to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Senator Bob Corker, the senior Republican on the committee, said he put a hold on $75 million intended for electoral programs in Afghanistan after Obama's administration failed to respond to his letters on May 2, May 14 and June 13 about the payments.

The New York Times reported in April that the CIA delivered tens of millions of dollars in "ghost money" - cash intended to buy influence - to Karzai's office in suitcases, backpacks and plastic shopping bags.

The money was meant to buy influence for the CIA, but instead fueled corruption and empowered warlords, undermining Washington's exit strategy from Afghanistan, the newspaper quoted U.S. officials as saying.

"This hold will remain in place until such time as I receive sufficient information on these matters and sufficient assurances that there is a process in place to ensure our policy towards governance in Afghanistan is coherent and supports our national interests," Corker said in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah.

Obama administration officials were not immediately available for comment on the matter.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Christopher Wilson)

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