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Dr Shakeel Afridi called corrupt, womaniser

30 May, 2012

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ISLAMABAD: The doctor who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden faced accusations of corruption and other wrongdoings long before he was captured and then jailed for 33 years for treason.

In interviews over the weekend, several current and former Pakistani officials described the doctor, Shakeel Afridi, as a hard-drinking womaniser who had faced accusations of sexual assault, harassment and stealing. They said his main obsession was making easy money.

According to a 2002 Health Department document seen by Reuters, Afridi was deemed to be corrupt and unreliable and unfit for government service.

US officials on Monday called the accusations character assassination. In Washington, one senior official said the US government was unaware of any questionable behaviour by Afridi. "Available information showed Afridi was a respected member of the Pakistani health care community," said the senior official. "We are aware of efforts, put in place since Dr Afridi's arrest, to denigrate his character."

Tariq Hayat, formerly the highest government official in the Khyber tribal region, said he knew Afridi when the doctor worked at a hospital there and was a senior medical officer. Hayat said he met him twice to question him over allegations that he had sexually assaulted a nurse at his hospital and had stolen its electrocardiograph machines for his private practice. "I made him stand ... I told him you are a characterless person, you have no principles," said Hayat, adding he had Afridi fired and expelled him from Khyber. "I said 'you are a thief, doctor'."

A senior health official who said he saw a record of the case said a nurse had complained about sexual harassment to the regional health director. That account was confirmed by a senior police official who investigated Afridi. "A number of nurses had complained about him, that he had behaved inappropriately with them," said the police official, adding that Afridi was also accused of stealing material sent by international aid agencies and selling it. These accounts could not be independently verified.

Afridi's brother Jamil described the treason charges as baseless and said the doctor was being made a scapegoat. "If my brother had done something wrong, he had a valid US visa. He could have fled the country," he said, adding that the family had received no offers of help from the US government.

He did not respond to questions about the charges of corruption and harassment. "I am in hiding because my life is in danger, all of our lives are in danger," Jamil Afridi said. "The family is safe for now but the propaganda campaign in the media is putting us in a lot of danger."

Some health workers who knew Afridi described him as a dedicated, polite professional. "He was very nice to all the people in the team and did his job very diligently," said Naseem Bibi, a nurse.

She said she had been with him when the medical team visited bin Laden's house. "Yes, he was very interested in this house on that day, but I wasn't sure why," she said.

His reputation hurt by allegations, Afridi was easy prey for the CIA which found him through his connections to Western aid agencies in about 2009, said the former security official. "The man was living beyond his means after he was fired," said the former security official. "He got married a third time. He maintained a couple of cars."

Afridi, who came to Abbottabad to carry out the vaccination campaign apparently at the CIA's behest, blundered when he visited the district health officer in the town. He told the officer he was a volunteer who wanted to provide vaccinations in a certain area and he gave the officer his real name, the former security official said.

The team moved from house to house conducting vaccinations and leaving chalk marks on the door to show the people inside had been vaccinated, as is customary in Pakistan. "They went in systematically the way a team is supposed to work," said the official. "No eyebrows were raised."

But after bin Laden was killed, his widows unwittingly helped Pakistani authorities track Afridi. "They said that the only time when somebody from outside visited the house, was this polio vaccination (team)," said the former security official, who believed the only other visitor to the house was bin Laden's courier, about once a month.

Afridi was quickly scooped up by security officials. When interrogated, Afridi initially said he had no ties with Americans, said the former security official. "He categorically denied everything to start with," said the former security official. "But when the Americans started asking for him, then I think the cat was out of the bag."

End.

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