Afghan elite 'plundered $900m' from leading bank

Business is on brink of collapse after its funds were treated 'like personal accounts'

A coterie of well-connected Afghan businessmen and politicians may have plundered as much as $900m from the country's biggest commercial bank, three times the amount of earlier estimates, and the equivalent of about 7 per cent of Afghanistan's total gross domestic product.

Kabul Bank's funds were treated like personal accounts, it is claimed by several well-known members of Afghan society. Mahmoud Karzai, a brother of the Afghan President and prominent shareholder in Kabul Bank, told The New York Times that the bank's former chairman lent himself about $98m (£62m) to buy one of Afghanistan's airlines, and then used deposits to subsidise the carrier in an attempt to drive rivals out of business. Yet so difficult has the hunt for the missing millions become that the very same man, Sherkhan Farnood, had been brought in to help trace the missing cash.

Officials say the value of questionable outstanding loans written by the bank is far greater than originally thought – and auditors poring over the lender's books think up to $800m is potentially unrecoverable.

The crisis is so severe – with fears that a run on the embattled Kabul Bank could lead to its collapse – that Afghanistan's central bank chief, Abdul Qadir Fitrat, was forced yesterday to deny reports that the embattled lender was close to failure. He claimed the sums at stake were smaller than reported and that auditors had been able to account for all but $100m lent to members of Afghanistan's elite.

The case is acutely embarrassing both for President Hamid Karzai, whose tenure has seen Afghanistan turn into a mafia state, and the Obama administration, which has adopted a policy of ignoring institutionalised corruption after several bitter diplomatic spats with Mr Karzai got it nowhere.

In an account of goings-on at Kabul Bank that is devastating in its detail, the New Yorker magazine records how "Kabul Bank's largesse included members of parliament and almost anyone whose silence would allow bank executives to embark on a spree of buying, lending and looting.

"In addition, some former and current Afghan officials say, Kabul Bank became an unofficial arm of the Karzai government, bribing parliamentarians in order to secure votes for its legislative agenda," it reports.

"Dozens of Afghan leaders and businessmen... collectively, accepted tens of millions of dollars in gifts and bribes – some sources say as much as a hundred million dollars – from executives at Kabul Bank."

The story is a startling illustration of an adage popular with diplomats in Kabul, which goes: "It's not that the system is corrupt; it's that corruption is the system."

In one reported incident, the bank's former chief executive, Khalil Ferozi, is alleged to have told President Karzai that he wanted to contribute to his re-election campaign and was pointed by the Afghan leader in the direction of his Finance Minister and campaign treasurer Omar Zakhilwal. Within days Kabul Bank employees delivered $200,000 in cash to Mr Zakhilwal and more was on the way. "Two guys, one case," he said. But "you will never ever find a record of a gift from them of any value, not even a dollar."

In another episode, Mr Ferozi bragged to a former Afghan cabinet minister that members of the government were on his payroll. "None of the ministers have the guts to speak against us," he is reported to have said. "They are ours."

American investigators say many of Mr Karzai's closest advisers, some with regulatory responsibilities over the Afghan financial system, are implicated in the scandal.

Some are viewed by Western donors as the most accomplished members of Mr Karzai's cabinet, like Farouk Wardak, the Education Minister, or Haneef Atmar, the former interior minister.

"Atmar appeared at one point to be receiving $3m a month," the New Yorker reported, noting that Kabul Bank had won the contract to pay government salaries to the police – who came under Mr Atmar's aegis – after paying a bribe worth perhaps $75m.

It's a meticulous account of the workings of kleptocracy, but from a Western perspective perhaps the most terrifying part of the tale is the motive. The businessmen, politicians and officials – the cream of Afghan society – are milking Afghanistan for all they can. Why? Because they don't believe their country has a future.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor