Afghanistan's top prosecutor said on Wednesday that he was launching an investigation into ballot fraud in the September parliamentary election and had suspended spokesmen for the nation's two main electoral bodies for making irresponsible comments to the media.
The announcement by Mohammad Ishaq Alako came just hours before final results were to be released following more than two months of investigations into allegations of widespread fraud
If Mr. Alako's statement, aired on Afghan television, is seen as throwing into question the decisions of election officials, it could cast doubt on the long-awaited results.
The attorney general's office is charged with investigating allegations of criminal activity in the election, but Mr. Alako's comments suggest that he is planning to investigate the legitimacy of the entire process.
"The decision about the Afghan election has been made in Dubai and in Kabul's foreign exchange market," Mr. Alako said, alleging that the election was bought and sold by powerful, well-connected Afghans who keep their money in Dubai. "I have evidence and documents and I am going to investigate. If no one accepts my investigation, I will not come to my job again."
Mr. Alako said he had suspended the spokesmen for the Independent Election Commission, which organized the vote, and the Electoral Complaints Commission, which investigates allegations of fraud and misconduct. He said the men made "irresponsible comments to the media" about the election and about the attorney general's office.
It was unclear whether the attorney general's office had the authority to suspend the officials. Both men told Afghanistan's Tolo TV that they were still at their jobs and had received no notice of suspension.
There has been a tug-of-war in recent weeks between Afghan electoral officials and the attorney general's office over who has the final authority to investigate allegations of electoral fraud following the September 28 vote.
At one point, Mr. Alako announced a series of investigations into alleged fraud, sparking complaints from the international community that he was overstepping his authority. According to Afghan law, only the Electoral Complaints Commission can decide whether fraud occurred or not. That body then forwards any evidence of criminal activity to the attorney general's office for possible prosecution.
The parliamentary election was the first since a fraud-marred presidential poll last year that undermined the legitimacy of Mr. Karzai's government and pushed some NATO countries to threaten to withdraw troops and aid. Allegations of misconduct in the parliamentary election are being closely watched by Afghanistan's international partners for signs that Mr. Karzai is committed to curbing corruption in his government.
Mr. Karzai said on Tuesday that the elections were an opportunity for Afghanistan to strengthen its democracy and not a potentially destabilizing event.
"Destabilization of the country I am sure will not happen, and we will not allow it," Mr. Karzai said. But of course we want an election that will reflect the aspirations of the Afghan people.