US finds Afghan anti-corruption efforts 'deeply troubling'


Kabul, Afghanistan

Two small machines sit on a shelf in a closet at Kabul International Airport, surrounded by cardboard boxes and idle desk fans.

The machines are bulk currency counters, provided by the United States to help Afghanistan stop cash smuggling estimated last year at $4.5 billion.

When U.S. investigators visited in September, they found the counters in working order, but they "did not observe any use of the machines."

Not far away, the investigators found that an airport lounge that allowed departing VIPs to bypass security and customs screenings had been expanded. The new area was designated for those the Afghan government deemed "very, very important persons."

The saga of the cash counters, described in a report released Tuesday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, is emblematic of the difficulties looming over international plans to provide Afghanistan with long-term economic support following the departure of U.S. combat troops two years from now.

U.S. and other donors pledged $4 billion a year after 2014 at an international conference in Tokyo this year. But the money is contingent on Afghanistan meeting a series of good-government and anti-corruption benchmarks.

Threats to curtail aid have been made and abandoned many times in the past in the face of impervious corruption in Afghanistan. But the Tokyo agreement noted that "business as usual" could not continue, and both sides agreed on the need to "move from promise to practice."

In October, Afghan President Hamid Karzai fulfilled one of the Tokyo commitments by promising to hold the country's next presidential election on time, setting the vote for April 5, 2014. Postponement of the last election, which gave Karzai a second term in 2009, contributed to widespread charges of electoral fraud.

But Afghanistan has yet to pass an electoral law that would allow foreigners to oversee the upcoming vote, and elections experts say that they confront substantial organizational work.

The more immediate challenges are corruption and good-government practices. Specific Tokyo benchmarks remain unaddressed, including putting those responsible for the failure of Kabul Bank on trial and implementing money laundering measures.

Smuggling bulk cash is one of the principal forms of laundering money "to finance terrorist, narcotics and other illicit operations," the SIGAR report said. It is also one of the primary ways that senior Afghan government officials are suspected of transferring ill-gotten gains to safety outside the country.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul tried to address the problem in 2010 by placing bulk currency counters at the international airport to get a sense of how much cash was leaving the country. The Afghan government pledged to adopt regulations within a year to govern bulk transfers of cash.

The cash counters also are designed to capture currency serial numbers and create databases to be transmitted via the Internet to a records center in Kabul, where the information could be used by law enforcement authorities.

A contract was awarded in 2010 to install the currency counters in the airport customs area, but the machines were not installed until nearly a year later, the SIGAR report said, "in part because U.S. and Afghan officials disagreed on where to put them."

In April, U.S. investigators found that the machines were being used to count cash, but they discovered that the serial numbers on the bills were not being recorded and that VIP passengers, who presumably had cash to carry, were allowed to bypass all screenings and use a separate entrance to the airport's secured area.

Despite this lack of cooperation, the government "continued to make public commitments to combat corruption and institute stronger border controls," including at the Tokyo conference in July, the report noted.

When investigators returned Sept. 20, they found the currency machines had been moved to "a small, closet-like area." The machines were plugged in and apparently in working order, but they were not connected to the Internet and were not being used.

In addition, VIPs continued to be exempt from screening, although "many of the individuals who traffic money leave from the VIP area," according to a Department of Homeland Security official who accompanied the SIGAR investigators.

"A new Very Very Important Persons (VVIP) lounge was built to provide easier boarding access for high-ranking officials, again allowing transit without main customs screenings or use of a bulk currency counter," the report said.

In its conclusion, the SIGAR report called the situation "deeply troubling."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?