Mahmood Karzai, Afghan leader’s brother, is under investigation

Seven years ago, Mahmood Karzai  was promising fresh pomegranate margaritas and “spicy nuances” of cumin at his new Mount Vernon Restaurant, Tampico Mexcian Grill, in a food section feature in The Baltimore Sun. Less than two years later, he recast the place as a french restaurant, Limoges Gourmet, and the Sun’s restaurant reviewer rhapsodized over the restaurant’s Coq au Reisling and “soft green artichoke puree with asparagus tips at its center.”

Now Karzai — the brother of Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai – is the subject of a federal corruption probe, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are considering whether to charge Mahmood Karzai with tax evasion, racketeering or extortion, the WSJ reports today, quoting sources. Karzai denied any wrongdoing, in an interview with the Journal.

Karzai, who has a house in Howard County, as does another brother, Baltimore restaurateur Qayum Karzai, told The Associated Press he was “preparing to amend his tax returns to reflect rental income from his home in Maryland and to show a capital gains on the sale of property in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, which he held for eight months before making a profit.”

Karzai also told the AP he recently sold “some of his businesses, including another restaurant in Baltimore.” He used to operate restaurants in Boston, San Francisco, and Baltimore, but in recent years moved more into Afghanistan’s cement, banking, and car industries and has, according to the Journal, amassed a net worth of $12 million. He splits his time between his home in Glenmont, in Howard County, and rentals in Dubai and Kabul, the Journal said.

The New-York-based investigation of Mahmood Karzai comes as the Obama Administration is becoming increasingly vocal about corruption in Afghanistan they say is undermining the government of President Hamid Karzai.

According to The New York Times, Mahmood Karzai has been the subject of electronic surveillance for months. The Times describes him as “one of the most powerful and well-connected business leaders in Kabul.”

Baltimore diners are more familiar with the restaurant empire of Qayum Karzai, who lives in Howard County with his wife, Pat, and owns the 20-year-old Afghan restaurant on Charles Street, Helmand. His other restaurants include “b” bistro in Bolton Hill and Tapas Teatro next to the Charles Theatre. He was also part of a group reported earlier this year to be negotiating to buy and revive the famous Chesapeake Restaurant, next to the Tapas Teatro.

In the 2003 Sun article, Mahmood Karzai says it took him time to learn that he too wanted to be a restaurant owner.

“As a young boy, I wanted to be a pilot, then a doctor,” he said. “But after I immigrated to America in 1976 and started working in restaurants, I knew this was my calling. I love good food and satisfying customers.”

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