President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who has promised a fight against rampant graft, reopened an inquiry into the notorious Kabul Bank case on Wednesday, October 1. The commercial bank collapsed in 2010 after media reports exposed massive high-level corruption and the misappropriation of more than 900 million USD – most of which was deposited by international donors.
In a presidential decree, Ghani ordered Afghanistan’s Supreme Court to launch a new investigation into the case within 45 days. He also ordered the Attorney General’s Office to arrest all the suspects within three days and keep them in detention until the court investigation is fully concluded.
“We promised to combat corruption comprehensively, on a full scale and in a principled manner and it is time for action,” Ghani said after signing the decree.
The new president wants to prove himself to Afghans and the international community by taking on what is known as the biggest corruption scandal in the country, said Said Massud, economics lecturer at Kabul University, who was present during the signing of the decree.
“It is a very interesting move by the president and a test for the new government. If the administration can solve this case and track the missing money, it will gain credibility and international prestige,” Massud told DW.
Many of those who are suspected to be involved in the scandal are related to former or current high-ranking Afghan officials, including brothers of former President Hamid Karzai and his then first vice-President Mohammad Qasim Fahim.
In total, 21 people were convicted in the case, including the bank’s founder Sher Khan Fernod and chief executive Haji Khalil Ferozi, who were sentenced to five years in jail. However, Karzai’s brothers and one of his vice-presidents were not sent to jail due to a presidential decree that granted immunity to shareholders who returned stolen funds.
Massud expresses concern over the 45-day deadline set for the Supreme Court to carry out an investigation into the case, as he doubts the capacity of institutions that will execute President Ghani’s decree.
The analyst believes the powerful people behind the scandal will be another big challenge for the new president. “It is to be seen if the Afghan government is powerful enough to put the people involved in the Kabul Bank case behind bars because many of them belong to very powerful families,” Massud stressed.
International community, which has been funding Afghanistan since 2001, has demanded Afghan officials to tackle widespread corruption. Many countries including Afghanistan’s biggest donor, the United States, have warned they will cut their financial aid to the war-torn nation if it does not take concrete actions against graft.
Kabul Bank scandal was described as “one of the largest banking failures in the world” by the country’s anti-corruption watchdog.
The case triggered a financial crisis and shook Afghans’ confidence in banking, which was a booming economic sector until 2010. Experts believe the country’s new government needs to do more to eliminate the practice of corruption, which would go a long way in retaining international financial support.
There were three immediate priorities for Ghani after taking over the reins, Massud noted. These included: a security pact with the US, agreement on NATO’s new training mission in Afghanistan and tracking Kabul Bank’s stolen money, the lecturer underlined. “President Ghani has already completed the first two. He will gain international credibility if he can achieve the third goal,” he added.
Many experts believe success in the fight against corruption will give Ghani’s new government the support and the credibility it needs from the people, particularly after the country’s disputed presidential election and a controversial political agreement between Ghani and his former electoral rival Abdullah Abdullah. Abdullah is now the Afghanistan’s Chief Executive.
Massud says the new president should deliver results as a failure to do so would put his future plans at risk. He is of the view that Abdullah’s support will be crucial to achieve success.
“If Ghani wants to govern well in the coming five years, he should make sure that the probe into Kabul Bank scandal succeeds. Otherwise, he will face huge problems as people will question his authority,” Massud said.