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Former government officials helped smuggling of almost $1 billion out of Afghanistan


Kabul: During the final months of the Republic government in Afghanistan, smugglers were illegally carrying hundreds of millions of dollars in cash and gold out of the country with the assistance of officials from within the Afghan government, according to Business Insider report.

The office of Ashraf Ghani, the US-backed Afghan president, had been informed about the problem, insiders say. But it did nothing to stop it.

According to Business insider report $59.7 million in cash and gold went from Afghanistan to Uzbekistan through the port of Hairatan during the first three months of 2021, but during a 13-month period running from May 2019 through May 2020, the total was a staggering $824 million.

Though the couriers failed to declare the money to Afghan officials as it left the country, Uzbek customs agents on the other side of the border recorded the cash and gold on handwritten customs forms. Those records were obtained by Afghan anti-corruption officials as part of an investigation into money smuggling, and they form the basis of a scathing report documenting a river of cash flowing out of the country.

Much of the money, the Uzbek customs forms show, was bound for the United Arab Emirates, where top Afghan officials escaped when their government collapsed last year.

The documents accuse Mirza Mohammad Katawazai, the former deputy speaker of Afghanistan’s parliament, of directing the smuggling ring with the help of a network of Afghan intelligence officials, border guards, and port officials. They also accuse Atta Mohammed Noor, the former governor of Balkh province, where Hairatan is located, of providing security for the smugglers and issuing threats to potential competition.

The corruption plaguing the Afghan government was no secret. It is mentioned repeatedly in the final report of the US Afghan Study Group and investigations by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). What the details of the Hairatan money-smuggling investigation offer is a window into the vast scale of that corruption, and the lack of action by Ghani’s government.

Rumors that Ghani left with more than $169 million in cash from public coffers were later debunked by SIGAR, but questions remain about Ghani’s considerable personal wealth and use of discretionary funds from Afghanistan’s budget. Today, the former president resides in the United Arab Emirates, where he established a temporary headquarters in the luxury suite of a 5-star hotel, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Those in Ghani’s inner circle appear to have prospered during their time in power. In June, the Wall Street Journal reported that the former president’s ministers have been snapping up rental properties in California and villas in the UAE, where the bulk of the smuggled money was headed. The UAE is also the home of Ghani and Noor, the former provincial governor with alleged ties to the Hairatan smuggling ring.

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