Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Business Insider.
Rahmatullah Azizi, a small-time drug smuggler operating in Afghanistan, progressed through the criminal underworld in the war-torn country to become the middle-man for bounty contracts against US service members, according to a New York Times report published Wednesday.
Azizi, who is believed to be around 40, was implicated in US intelligence reports that named his as a central figure in the distribution of Russian-supplied money to pay for bounties against US troops deployed in Afghanistan, The Times reported.
Azizi collected the money supplied by the Russian military intelligence agency, the GRU, in Russia, and is reportedly believed to have paid Taliban-linked militants in Afghanistan through other countries. The bounties netted upwards of $100,000, according to Afghan officials cited in The Times.
When Afghan intelligence operatives raided the offices of Azizi's associates six months ago, the suspected middle-man had already fled, believed to be back in Russia, The Times reported. About a half-million dollars was reported found in one of his homes in the capital.
Azizi frequently traveled between Russia and Afghanistan, “but no one knew what he did,” a provincial leader said, The Times reported. Friends claimed they weren't surprised by the outcome after seeing the smuggler “not even having a blanket” to owning several high-end cars and bodyguards. One of his homes was also upgraded to become a four-story villa, The Times reported.
News of Azizi's finances comes as reports of the alleged bounty campaign dramatically made its way to the White House. Although several reports cited intelligence officials who claimed President Donald Trump and White House was briefed about the matter as early as last year, the White House denied the reports, saying instead that the intelligence was neither verified nor credible.
NATO officials told Business Insider they were briefed on suspected Russian bounties on US soldiers in Afghanistan.
Trump reaffirmed a Defense Department message, saying in a tweet on Wednesday that there was “no corroborating evidence to back reports,” and that it was “all a made-up Fake News Media Hoax started to slander me & the Republican party.”
Russia's foreign ministry has denied involvement and said the allegations were “100% bulls—.”
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