KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday rejected allegations that one of his deputies had orchestrated a fraud against a longtime rival in Afghanistan's recent presidential election.
On Sunday, campaign aides of Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister and one of the candidates for president, released an audio recording they said was of Vice President Mohammad Karim Khalili encouraging vote-rigging in favour of Ashraf Ghani, the other contender.
Aimal Faizi, Karzai's spokesman, on Monday dismissed the recording as a fake. Khalili's and Ghani's teams also rejected the recording.
"This is a serious threat and violation to someone's security and privacy, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice," Faizi told Reuters.
The two rounds of voting in the presidential election should have provided the first democratic transition of power in Afghanistan's history. Instead, they have been tainted by allegations of mass fraud.
Abdullah's team accuses Karzai of rigging the vote and favouring former World Bank technocrat Ghani. The preliminary results of a U.N. audit show Ghani leading by about a million votes, but Western diplomats say they expect at least a quarter of the votes will be invalidated.
The audit began three weeks ago but has been dogged by delays and squabbling over technicalities, such as how to disqualify votes. On Monday, the audit picked up pace, as hundreds of U.N. observers joined representatives of Ghani and Abdullah in sifting through some eight million votes.
Foreign forces have flown hundreds of flights to bring all the ballots to a central auditing warehouse on the edge of the capital.
Karzai expects the audit will be completed and a new president named by the end of the month, but diplomats say it could take much longer.
The delay complicates the signing of two agreements that would allow the United States and NATO to maintain a small military presence in Afghanistan for training and counter-insurgency operations.
Karzai has refused to sign the security deals, but both Ghani and Abdullah say they will enact the pacts.
(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Writing by Jeremy Laurence; Editing by Larry King)