US finds Afghan anti-corruption efforts 'deeply troubling'
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."
- 1 Jennifer Lawrence scores first UK top 40 single with Hunger Games track 'The Hanging Tree'
- 2 Shia LaBeouf claims he was raped during #IAMSORRY art installation performance
- 3 'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
- 4 Scientists predict green energy revolution after incredible new graphene discoveries
- 5 Michael Buerk wishes he killed Jimmy Savile when he had the chance - by pushing him overboard a cruise ship
Kim Jong-un 'in dire need of allies' within his own government as younger sister appointed to senior role
Black Friday UK: The shops hit by chaos and violence as shopping frenzy sweeps country
Scientists predict green energy revolution after incredible new graphene discoveries
Russell Brand: 'Katy Perry? I don’t know who that is'
Michael Buerk wishes he killed Jimmy Savile when he had the chance - by pushing him overboard a cruise ship
Obama: The only people with the right to object to immigration are Native Americans
Ukip says babies born to immigrants in the UK should be classed as migrants – which would include Nigel Farage’s own children
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Ukip mocked after mistaking Westminster Cathedral – for a mosque
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
David Cameron sets out immigration reforms: We should distrust Ukip and their 'snake-oil of simple solutions'
£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...
£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...
£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...
£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...