Corruption soils Afghanistan's bright blue treasure

When David Cameron described Afghanistan to the Queen as "fantastically corrupt" over drinks at Buckingham Palace in April it was widely regarded as a gaffe. But the British prime minister was not wrong.

Afghanistan ranks a woeful 166th out of 168 countries in Transparency International's latest assessment of graft and crooked dealing around the world. And there is no better evidence of just how deep corruption goes than the fate of one of Afghanistan's greatest treasures, the gemstone lapis lazuli.

A two-year-long investigation by the campaigning NGO Global Witness shows that instead of going to the people, the profits from the trade in this extraordinarily beautiful semi-precious stone are being funnelled into the pockets of senior politicians and top officials, and have also become a major source of income for the Taliban and other insurgent militias.

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