Two Republican lawmakers are pushing for a federal probe into whether deposed Afghan president Ashraf Ghani “embezzled” millions in US aid for his personal use.
Reps. James Comer and Glenn Grothman wrote nearly identical letters Tuesday asking the State and Justice Departments to investigate Ghani, who fled Afghanistan’s capitol earlier this month as Taliban forces closed in.
Ghani “may have been self-dealing with US funds intended for the Afghan people, having fled the country with enormous sums of cash totaling well over a hundred million dollars,” Comer (R-Ky.) and Grothman (R-Wis.) wrote.
“If true, this was not the dignified exit of a benevolent head of state, but that of a coward and grifter,” they wrote in the letter, addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“The United States must do everything in its power to seize any illicitly gained funds that were corruptly embezzled by President Ghani. If he diverted funds from their intended purposes, the U.S. should bring him to justice.”
The 72-year-old Ghani left the Afghanistan capital of Kabul on Aug. 15, hours before the Taliban entered the city and its fighters occupied the presidential palace. A spokesperson for the Russian embassy in Kabul initially claimed that Ghani fled with four cars containing duffle bags full of money, which his entourage tried to stuff into the helicopter carrying him into exile.
“Not all of it fit, and some of the money was left lying on the tarmac,” the spokesman, Nikita Ishchenko, was quoted as saying by Russian state media.
Days later, Afghanistan’s TOLO News reported that Afghanistan’s ambassador to Tajikistan had called for Ghani and two of his associates to be arrested by Interpol and claimed that the former president had fled Kabul with $169 million.
In remarks delivered Aug. 18 from the United Arab Emirates, whose government had offered him refuge on “humanitarian grounds,” Ghani denied that he had taken any money with him and called claims to the contrary “baseless lies.”
“I was forced to leave Afghanistan with one set of traditional clothes, a vest and the sandals I was wearing,” the former president insisted, adding that he had left his country in an effort to prevent bloodshed in Kabul.
In their letters, Comer and Grothman argued that Ghani’s “reckless and cowardly actions likely contributed to the speed with which the Taliban took over the country and toppled the Afghan government and led to the resulting chaotic situation now faced by American citizens and our allies who are now trapped in a country controlled by a hostile regime.”
The two lawmakers concluded their letters with a request to be briefed no later than the end of this month about whether Ghani had taken any money with him, where the money came from and whether the Biden administration planned to pursue charges if Ghani was proven to have stolen foreign aid money.
In all, US taxpayers have spent more than $2 trillion on the two-decade conflict in Afghanistan, including more than $17 billion in direct assistance to the government in Kabul.
In Ghani’s absence, Vice President Amrullah Saleh has claimed to be Afghanistan’s caretaker leader and has lent his support to anti-Taliban rebels holding out in the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul.