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A former senior Afghan official says he has answered questions in a U.S. inquiry into allegations that former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took $150 million in cash with him when he abruptly left Kabul last year as the Taliban took control.
Hamdullah Mohib, who served as Ghani’s national security adviser, says he voluntarily met with John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in December at his office in Arlington, Virginia, to answer questions about corruption in the U.S.-backed Afghan government.
“I also gave [SIGAR] my bank accounts and details of all my assets,” said Mohib, who left Afghanistan in the same plane with Ghani and stayed with him in Abu Dhabi for a while. He told VOA that he would continue to cooperate with SIGAR investigations.
The U.S. was the largest donor to the Afghan government until it collapsed, and SIGAR has been tasked by Congress to investigate allegations that Ghani took millions in cash as he fled Afghanistan last August.
“The fact that we're looking at those allegations doesn't mean that they're true or not,” Sopko said at an Atlantic Council event last week.
In addition to the cash flight allegations, which were first reported by the Russian Embassy in Kabul, Sopko said his investigators were looking into several related issues. “Why did the government of Afghanistan fall so quickly? Why did the military collapse so quickly? What happened? All the weapons? What happened to all the money that we were sending right up to the end — money, fuel, things like that.”
SIGAR is expected to find answers to these questions and present a classified report to Congress in March or April this year. There will also be a public report which will be released later, Sopko said.
Ghani not interviewed
Fazel Fazly, another close aide to Ghani who fled with him in the same convoy and now lives in Sweden, told VOA the former Afghan president has not yet been interviewed by SIGAR. “I’ve been in touch with the president,” said Fazly, adding that he also had not yet received inquiries from SIGAR.
In a video message released three days after he left Afghanistan, Ghani strongly rejected the reports that he took cash with him, and later called on the United Nations to launch an independent investigation into the matter.
Like Mohib, Fazly said he is willing to cooperate with SIGAR to prove he was not involved in any corruption, while at the same time admitting corruption infested all layers of the former Afghan government.
“It’s insane to say there was no corruption,” Fazly said. “We expect SIGAR to do objective, comprehensive and meaningful investigations to uncover the truth about corruption in Afghanistan.”
Mohib and Fazley, widely reported to be closer to Ghani than any other Afghan officials, both said allegations that Ghani fled with sacks of dollars were aimed at maligning the former Afghan president as a corrupt U.S. ally.
“Moscow’s relations with President Ghani were terrible and even some Central Asian leaders called him a Western imperialist,” Fazley said.
Fazly and Mohib both said they were unaware ofthe existence of large volumes of cash in the Afghan Presidential Palace.
While Ghani’s predecessor, Hamid Karzai, confirmed that his office received bags of cash from the CIA and from the Iran government, Ghani said on multiple occasions that his office never received cash from the CIA or any other intelligence agency.
Ghani claims he had transferred his executive authority over state funds to a government committee and had no power over U.S. and NATO contracting processes for Afghan military funding, according to Mohib.
Others say the president did not need to personally receive the assistance funds in order to make use of them.
“There was money in the Afghanistan Bank,” said Sayed Ikram Afzali, director of a local corruption watchdog Integrity Watch Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan Bank building — headquarters of the state-run central bank — is adjacent to the Presidential Palace compound in central Kabul where all funds, liquidities and highly valuable items were stored.
“Moving cash from the central bank to the palace was not a hard thing to do, especially when the governor of the bank was a Ghani henchman,” said Afzali, adding that Ghani had kept Ajmal Ahmady, a U.S. citizen, as governor of the central bank even after his nomination to the post was repeatedly rejected by parliament.
Ahmady, now a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School who leads a study group entitled “Afghanistan—What Happened & How to Engage the Taliban,” did not respond to an email inquiry.
“Corruption in Afghanistan did not take place only for one day, and we must not be solely fixated on what happened on August 15. Large amounts of money were taken out of Afghanistan for so many years and those involved in high-level corruption were not waiting until the last day of the republic to move physical currency out of the country,” Afzali said.
From 2001 to the end of 2021, the U.S. spent more than $2 trillion on the Afghan war, including some $140 billion spent on development projects, according to the Costs of War project at Brown University’s Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs.
At least $15.5 billion of the U.S. development funds went to “waste, fraud and abuse,” SIGAR’s investigations have found.
“Systemic corruption perpetuated an implosion of the system in Afghanistan,” conceded Hamdullah Mohib.
Like others, Mohib said he was concerned that “truly corrupt” individuals who enriched themselves through the U.S.-bankrolled funding and contracting systems in Afghanistan now roam free in different parts of the world.
Since the fall of the Afghan government, tens of thousands of Afghans, among them former government officials and contractors, have sought refuge outside Afghanistan.
There are now growing calls, even by officials of the former Afghan government, for some sort of accountability by their own former colleagues.
"[Former government officials] must be held accountable and tried,” Naseer Ahmad Faiq, chargé d'affaires of Afghanistan's mission at the United Nations, told a Security Council meeting last week. “It is not fair that 38 million people [in Afghanistan] are starving and mothers sell their children to survive but these corrupt former government officials live in luxurious houses and villas in different countries in Europe and the U.S.”
SIGAR’s investigations have led to criminal charges and trials of some individuals and companies, both U.S. and Afghan, in U.S. federal courts. It’s unclear whether SIGAR would press criminal charges against former Afghan officials, who were previously commended as U.S. partners, if found guilty of fraud and corruption.
“We're looking at more people than President Ghani about taking money out of the country at the end,” John Sopko said in response to a VOA question.