Billions of Dollars Sent Illegally Abroad from Kabul Bank

• Category: Afghanistan
KABUL (Pajhwok Afghan News) – The Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee on Wednesday said $5 bln, including $400 mln the Kabul Bank’s shareholders, were illegally transferred abroad.
Cover of Kabul Bank crisis report

Report of public inquiry into the Kabul Bank crisis (PDF)

Kabul Bank was established in 2004 at a time when Afghanistan’s banking sector was greatly underdeveloped. The overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 resulted in an influx of international aid, expanded public services, and companies of various sizes, all of which required banking services to support their operations. The growth in demand for financial services drastically outstripped the capacity to effectively regulate and supervise the industry, resulting in vulnerabilities that were exploited by participants in the Kabul Bank fraud.

The report of the public inquiry into the Kabul Bank crisis is intended to provide a full account of the Kabul Bank crisis and the adequacy of government and international response. It is also intended to provide practical recommendations to mitigate the possibility of something similar happening in the future. Many of the issues and recommendations identified in relation to the Kabul Bank crisis are indicative of broader systemic challenges to good governance and effective justice in Afghanistan.

At the time of its failure, Kabul Bank was a central institution in the lives of millions of Afghans, and for many represented their first experience with formal banking structures. Kabul Bank was the largest banking service provider in Afghanistan with an extensive network of branches and services that included the distribution of a substantial majority of salaries on behalf of the Government of Afghanistan. Its failure and subsequent bail-out represents approximately five to six percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product, making Kabul Bank one of the largest banking failures in the world.

The cost of the Kabul Bank crisis should not only be understood in monetary terms, as the breach of trust in financial and government institutions also has a social cost. This cost undermines the government and international community’s efforts to build viable institutions in Afghanistan.

Addressing a news conference, the committee chairman, Drago Kos, said money of clients and the central bank was stolen by Kabul Bank founders as result of widespread corruption and off-book loans. He accused shareholders and managers of committing massive embezzlement through complicated lending practices and mismanagement. As a result, Kabul Bank, once the country’s largest private-sector lender, plunged into a deep financial crisis due. Reports put at $900 mln the loans issued to a number of people, including stakeholders.

Also on Wednesday, an independent review said the Kabul Bank top officials, their friends and relatives got rich off $861 mln in fraudulent loans.

Funded by international donors, the report called the bank a sophisticated operation. Loans were rarely repaid, with borrowers getting more credit to return the old. The bank’s credit department used over 100 stamps for fake companies to make documents appear authentic. The money ended up in accounts in more than two dozen countries, according to the report, which alleged poor oversight by bank regulators and political interference in the criminal investigation.

Deliberate deception and systematic failure caused the embezzlement of more than $900 mln, benefitting a small group of influential Afghans. The allegations include fraudulent property deals, massive illegal loans to government officials and fake corporations.

The Independent Joint Anti-corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee said airline food trays were used as one means through which $861 mln was smuggled out of the country. The 87-page report said 10 pilots working for Pamir Airways were paid annual salaries of over $300,000.

“Information received during the inquiry indicates that the final decision about who to indict was made at the political level in the spring of 2011 by a high-ranking committee,” the report said. Prosecutors from the attorney general's office were called in to amend the indictment to conform to the decisions taken.

The bank’s founder and chairman Sher Khan Farnoud (شرخان فاروند) and CEO Khalilullah Ferozi (خلیل الله فیروزی), who are accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars through off-book loans, are among the 22 suspects. Drago Kos, the chief investigator, vowed to put the perpetrators behind bars. Without giving details, he said a dozen shareholders and seven private companies were involved in the scandal.

About 22 people were accused of embezzlement in the case, and their trial started on Wednesday. At three hearings, 18 people, including Sher Khan Farnood and Khalil Ferozi, appeared before the court to defend themselves.

But Kos said $935 mln of the bank was transferred abroad through various systems. He added $825 mln was needed to bail out the bank. The Afghan government will have to pay 6% of its GDP to save the bank, which would be a huge blow to the country’s economy. He asked: “Why the central bank, detectives and law-enforcement organs delayed action to deal with the bank scandal; why the government did not take timely measures and AGO delayed investigation into cases.”

The investigation showed in addition to issuing illegal loans and hiding assets, Kabul Bank management also transferred large sums of money overseas. Carried out by over 15 people, including national and international lawyers, economists, audit experts and law-enforcement authorities, the report said the scandal had resulted in a financial crisis in Afghanistan.