Ex-Afghan president Ghani refused questions about ‘stolen’ cash

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Ex-Afghan president Ghani refused questions about 'stolen' cash

Ashraf Ghani is still acting like the president of Afghanistan, at least on Facebook.

From his exile in the United Arab Emirates — where he landed after fleeing the presidential palace as Taliban forces swarmed Kabul on August 15, 2021 — Ghani gives interviews on democracy and doles out diplomatic greetings to his more than 2.8 million social media followers.

While the 73-year-old has bemoaned Afghanistan’s “very bad situation in history,” he has done little to set the record straight about his own controversial flight from his homeland, according to a congressional oversight panel.

The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has spent the last year investigating allegations that more than $160 million was loaded onto helicopters that carried Ghani, his wife and some of his aides to an Uzbekistan town on the Afghan border as his government collapsed.

The allegations were first made by the Russian embassy in Kabul and the Afghan ambassador to Tajikistan, who accused the former leader of spiriting $169 million in cash out of the country.

Ghani fled Afghanistan on Aug. 15, 2021, when the Taliban took over.
Ghani fled Afghanistan on Aug. 15, 2021, when the Taliban took over.
AP

While investigators did not find evidence that the cash was loaded onto the helicopters during the chaotic flights from Kabul, it has raised other questions about the alleged plunder of tens of millions of dollars from Afghan government coffers.

Ghani, who has repeatedly denied stealing any cash, refused a request to be interviewed by SIGAR officials during the probe, and would only answer questions through his Washington, DC, attorney, according to “Theft of Funds from Afghanistan: An Assessment of Allegations Concerning President Ghani and Former Senior Afghan Officials.” The report was released Tuesday, August 9.

Investigators sent 56 written questions to Ghani through Reid Weingarten, a former federal prosecutor who specializes in white-collar criminal defense, in March. On July 28, SIGAR received answers to only six of those questions, the report says.

Ghani and his wife, Rula, left the country by helicopter, eventually settling in Dubai.
Ghani and his wife, Rula, left the country by helicopter, eventually settling in Dubai.
Getty Images

“Ghani doesn’t come off too well, having stonewalled SIGAR,” said Michael Rubin, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and an expert on the Middle East. “That doesn’t smell right, and basically it’s not a good look.”

The former president’s lawyer in Washington, DC, did not return requests for comment.

Investigators also note that they were hamstrung in their probe because they had to rely heavily on eyewitness testimony rather than on documentary evidence “because undeclared cash leaves no paper trail.” To make matters even more difficult, all of their sources requested anonymity, and some former senior government officials refused to answer any questions.

“Many of the officials in a position to witness the alleged theft of money were alleged by others to have stolen it,” the report says.

He continues to give interviews on diplomacy.
Ghani continues to give interviews on diplomacy.
AFP via Getty Images

Still, after interviewing more than 30 Afghan officials who worked in the office of the president, and Afghanistan’s security services, SIGAR found that some cash was removed from the presidential palace on August 15, 2021, and loaded onto three helicopters that spirited Ghani and members of his entourage out of Kabul. But investigators believe that the amount was not more than $1 million and “may have been closer in value to $500,000.”

In October 2021, a former bodyguard to Ghani claimed that CCTV footage existed showing an “individual at the Afghan Bank brought a lot of money to Ghani before he left. Hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars … This money was supposed to be for the currency exchange market,” Brig. Gen. Piraz Ata Sharifi alleged to the Daily Mail. “Each Thursday, the dollars were brought for that purpose. Instead, it was taken by the president” before he left.

Before becoming president, Ghani worked for the World Bank and received up to $360,000 a year from the Institute for State Effectiveness, a nonprofit funded in part by billionaire George Soros.

Before becoming president of Afghanistan, Ghani worked for a non-profit funded in part by billionaire George Soros (above).
Before becoming president of Afghanistan, Ghani worked for a nonprofit funded in part by billionaire George Soros (above).
AFP via Getty Images

The report notes that $5 million was allegedly left behind in the president’s residence — funds that Ghani said he and his wife had amassed from the sale of properties in Lebanon and the US before he first became president in September 2014, his lawyer told SIGAR. The cash was destined for a nonprofit to help Afghans.

During his chaotic departure from Kabul, unnamed sources told investigators that Ghani barely had time to collect himself. “The departure was so sudden that the president was barefoot, forcing [General Qaher] Kochai to find the president’s shoes,” said the report, referring to the head of the Afghan President’s Protective Service. “The president did not have time to get his passport.”

“The chaos had become so intense that every minute we would hear that a certain district of Kabul had fallen to the Taliban,” a former senior official told investigators about the Sunday in August that signaled the end of Ghani’s rule.

In fleeing the presidential palace, the situation was so hurried and chaotic that Ghani did not even have time to grab his passport.
In fleeing the presidential palace, the situation was so hurried and chaotic that Ghani did not even have time to grab his passport.
AFP via Getty Images

National security adviser Hamdullah Mohib and Kochai “feared that the PPS [President’s Protective Service] guards — sensing the tide turning — might execute Ghani, so Mohib, Kochai and a driver tried to discreetly take the president to the landing zone in a single car. The president’s motorcade accompanied them anyway.”

Ghani and his wife, Rula, were bundled into a helicopter with three others, according to a source. The first lady had two suitcases “as she had time to pack for a trip to the UAE.” Witnesses told investigators that the former first lady’s suitcases contained clothes. not cash.

“The issue of what he carried with him on his final flight misses the mark,” Rubin told The Post. “He [Ghani] likely squirreled away lots of money in advance for a rainy day. Presumably, he’s also a silent investor in some businesses and continues to collect those dividends.”

"The chaos had become so intense that every minute we would hear that a certain district of Kabul had fallen to the Taliban,” a former senior official told investigators of the last day.
“The chaos had become so intense that every minute we would hear that a certain district of Kabul had fallen to the Taliban,” a former senior official told investigators of the last day.
AFP via Getty Images

Corruption has long been rampant in Afghanistan, with allegations of government officials spending lavishly from government-controlled “slush funds” and spiriting cash from foreign development and military aid out of the country.

SIGAR focused on two government contingency budgets — “slush funds disbursed with minimal oversight,” known as Code 91 and Code 92, which the president “typically controlled.” SIGAR noted that the funds totaled nearly $200 million in 2021.

“According to Integrity Watch Afghanistan, abuse of these funds started under the administration of former president Hamid Karzai but worsened under Ghani,” the report says. When asked about the funds, Ghani’s attorney said that, in February 2020, Ghani had established a committee “to enhance oversight and transparency of funds used from Code 91 and Code 92.”

Official say four years before Ghani became president, corruption was so rampant in Afghanistan that by 2010, it's estimated that cash totaling more than $1 billion a year was stolen from the country.
Official say four years before Ghani became president, corruption was so rampant in Afghanistan that by 2010, it’s estimated that cash totaling more than $1 billion a year was stolen from the country.
Getty Images

Ghani, a finance minister in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2004, told SIGAR through his lawyer that he did not recall any bulk cash transfers and that “the possibility of such transfers seems implausible.”

But for years, bulk cash transfers were spirited out of the country by corrupt government officials, according to reports. In 2010, four years before Ghani became president, the Washington Post, citing US and Afghan officials, estimated that cash totaling more than $1 billion a year “flow[ed] mostly to the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai, where many wealthy Afghans now park their families and funds.”

“One million dollars a day was leaving Kabul international airport for Dubai,” said Thomas Johnson, a research professor at the National Security Affairs Department at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey who has more than 30 years’ experience in Afghanistan. “Anyone who knows Ghani and Afghanistan knows he was a fraud and extremely corrupt.”

Despite the Taliban takeover, Ghani has said he hopes to return to Afghanistan.
Despite the Taliban takeover, Ghani has said he hopes to return to Afghanistan.
AFP/Getty Images

Johnson, who told The Post he had spoken to senior Afghan government officials who were present during the fall of Ghani’s government, said that shortly after Ghani took power in Afghanistan, he surrounded himself with “yes men” who wouldn’t dare question anything he did.

Now, Johnson believes that Ghani is “living a millionaire’s life in Dubai” where leaders allowed him to enter on humanitarian grounds.

He told CNN in a Sunday interview that he “very much” hoped to return to Afghanistan at some point.

Ghani, who has a PhD in anthropology from Columbia University and co-wrote the 2008 book “Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World,” also posted an “exclusive” interview in Persian on Facebook last week, titled “The fall of democracy, its reasons and consequences.”

“The UAE initially accepted Ghani on the condition he remain silent,” said Rubin. “Ghani, however, has always relished attention. Silence is difficult for him. He has a tendency to say increasingly outlandish things to get attention, and this will eventually be embarrassing for the Emiratis.”

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