Afghan Anticorruption Chief Sold Heroin in Las Vegas in ’87
KABUL — When the deal went down in Las Vegas, the seller was introduced only as Mr. E. In a room at Caesars Palace hotel, Mr. E exchanged a pound-and-a-half bag of heroin for $65,000 cash, unaware that the buyer was an undercover detective. The sting landed him in a Nevada state prison for nearly four years.
Twenty years later, Mr. E, whose real name is Izzatullah Wasifi, has a new job. He is the government of Afghanistan’s anticorruption chief.
Mr. Wasifi leads a staff of 84 people charged with rooting out the endemic graft that is fueled in part by the country’s position as the world’s largest producer of opium poppy, the raw ingredient of heroin.
President Hamid Karzai’s office would not say if the president knew about the drug conviction when Mr. Wasifi was appointed two months ago. Mr. Wasifi, 48, a childhood friend of Mr. Karzai’s, is the son of a prominent Afghan nationalist leader.
Mr. Wasifi was arrested at Caesars Palace on July 15, 1987, for selling 23 ounces of heroin, according to criminal records in Nevada and California. Prosecutors said the drugs were worth $2 million on the street.
Mr. Wasifi served three years and eight months in prison before winning parole.
In an interview in his modest office at the anticorruption bureau in Kabul, Mr. Wasifi confirmed that he had been imprisoned in Nevada for a drug offense, although his account of events differed from court records.
He said he was arrested on the third day of his honeymoon. The woman who was then his wife, identified in court records as Fereshteh Behbahani, bought cocaine for her own use in a bar of a Las Vegas hotel and took it to their room, where they were arrested, he said.
“My wife made an error,” said Mr. Wasifi, looking dapper in a navy suit and waistcoat.
“A lot of people go to Las Vegas for fun and for snuff,” he continued, pointing to his nostril and sniffing. “This thing happened.”
In Los Angeles, Mr. Wasifi’s ex-wife, Ms. Behbahani, 50, who was sentenced to three years’ probation for conspiring to traffic drugs with Mr. Wasifi, declined to be interviewed.
Mr. Wasifi was adamant that his drug conviction should not affect his ability to serve in government in Afghanistan. He compared his situation to that of President Bush, who was arrested in 1976 for drunken driving.
“Everybody through their lifetime has done something, fallen somewhere or done some mistake,” Mr. Wasifi said. “That’s the only thing I can say about it.”
He pointed to his record as governor of western Farah Province, where opium production dropped 25 percent during his 14-month tenure.
Counternarcotics officials attributed the drop mostly to drought, but also to poppy eradication campaigns led by Mr. Wasifi.
In his new job, Mr. Wasifi is charged with tackling bribery and administrative corruption. Antinarcotics officials in Afghanistan, speaking on condition of anonymity, say there is no evidence to prove that Mr. Wasifi is involved in Afghanistan’s heroin trade.