News / Asia

Kabul Bank Scandal Tests Afghan Stability

Central Bank Governor Abdul Qadir Fitrat (File Photo)
Central Bank Governor Abdul Qadir Fitrat (File Photo)

Multimedia

Audio

Afghanistan’s largest lender, Kabul Bank, is embroiled in a corruption scandal threatening billions of dollars in international aid. The International Monetary Fund says its support to the country depends on whether officials can fix the problems that led to the bank’s collapse and government takeover last year.

The situation got even more complicated this week. Afghanistan issued an arrest warrant for Central Bank governor Abdul Qadir Fitrat, after he fled to Washington and resigned his post.

In an interview with VOA, the former central bank chief said he feared his life was in danger from those he tried to prosecute for "stealing millions" from Kabul Bank.

Abdul Qadir Fitrat speaks with VOA's John Walker in Washington:

But the Afghan government says Fitrat is the guilty party, and was involved in massive fraud at the bank.

VOA’s Kate Woodsome spoke with Martine van Bijlert, the co-director of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network, about the scandal, the bank’s history, and its impact on the future of Afghanistan.

Listen to the Interview:

Abdul Qadir Fitrat told VOA there’s evidence showing a complex Ponzi scheme, designed to drain millions from Kabul Bank and flow to corrupt individuals. Is this a legitimate claim?

“Well, basically, it’s clear that the Kabul Bank didn’t operate like a normal bank. The shareholders borrowed or took large amounts of money from the bank, and invested that in very shaky investments. So some of that is still there and some of that has been lost. Basically, they used it as a private investment fund, which is not the normal way of running a bank.”

Fitrat says he’s in danger for accusing the bank’s shareholders, including the brothers of the Afghan president and vice president, of corruption. Does he have a reason to be scared?

“In Afghanistan, everything’s personal. And so if you go public and you smear someone’s name, because that’s the way it’s being seen, that’s taken very personally. Basically Fitrat briefed parliament on the research and the investigation they had done, and he named the biggest borrowers in the bank, and that included the brothers of the president and the brother of the vice president.

They were not very pleased that they were presented as corrupt individuals. Whether that goes as far as really putting his life in danger, I am not so sure. But he was very much under a lot of pressure.”

He was also under a lot of pressure from the international community to clean up this bank.

“It was very important for the international community. It actually became the main point in the negotiations between the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the Afghan government. And the IMF is still not satisfied with how much the Afghan government has moved on this case. It’s withholding an agreement, which is making other donors withhold funds, so it’s really a big deal.

The U.S. is very closely involved in this sector. They’ve been the force pushing for resolving the banking crisis. They pushed Fitrat very hard to go public in parliament. They really want this out in the open and sorted out. It’s just very complicated because there are possibilities that a very large part of the political class is involved in this somehow. There’s been a report that said USAID, that’s been supporting the banking sector, should have been much more proactive. It’s become a very complex problem wherein actually everybody who’s involved has some blame.”

Kabul Bank handles about 80 percent of the government payroll, including salaries for policemen and teachers, so it’s really a part of sort of the running of the government. How stable is it, and what’s the potential fallout from this scandal?

“Well, what happened is that they split the bank into sort of a good running part, which is the part that handles the salaries at the moment, and then the part which holds all the loans which should never have been given. And that part is in receivership and they’re trying to get as much back from those loans as they can.

So, in principle, the good part of the bank should be stable at the moment. It’s going to probably be sold at some point, but for the moment it’s being run under the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance. But in general, the banking system in Afghanistan is very shaky. It’s not been well regulated. That’s also why this could have happened. And it’s just not very well established yet, so there is a bit of nervousness that if any other banks get into trouble or if there are any other big media issues, it could really shake the Afghan economy.”

The bank had an unusual start. It was founded in 2004 by an international poker player, Sherkhan Farnood.

“It was founded by someone who didn’t have experience in the banking center, but he did have experience in the Hawala sector, in the informal money transporting sector. This is part of the lack of regulation within the banking system that people with no prior experience could set up large banks like that and play such a central role in the Afghan economy.”

Afghanistan has issued an arrest warrant for Fitrat, who has U.S. residency. How is this going to affect the already strained U.S.-Afghan relations?

“It’s going to be very interesting to watch who’s going to be the new head of the Central Bank. Because it’s such an important issue for the United States, they will find it very important that it’s someone they can work with; that it’s someone who’s seen as professional and proactive and who will want to clean up the banking sector. There has been sort of a history of appointing people to spite the U.S. or the international community, or to annoy them.

In the negotiations about the IMF agreement, the Minister of Finance has come out saying, ‘I’m sorry I’ve done everything I’ve needed to do. They’re still not happy, it’s a waste of my time.’ So that could become very contentious. On the issue of Fitrat and his extradition, I think the U.S. is going to be looking very carefully at what the allegations are and how much they may or may not be true. There could be truth in them, it could also be a form of retaliation. I’d be surprised if the U.S. extradites him.”

You May Like

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid