The Comptroller General of Da Afghanistan Bank, Afghanistan’s central bank, has been sitting in jail since October 8 along with 3 DAB colleagues as part of President Ghani’s attack on corruption. What has he done, asked the two young children of this young 32-year-old rising Afghan star? Muhammad Qaseem Rahimi was one of 21 Afghans convicted on March 6, 2013 by a Special Tribunal appointed by President Karzai for crimes associated with the Kabul Bank fraud, by which Afghanistan’s largest bank channeled virtually all of its almost one billion U.S dollars worth of depositor money to a handful of its owners and their friends.
Kabul Bank’s founder Sher Khan Farnod and his former bodyguard and later Kabul Bank CEO Khalil Ferozi received light sentences of five years in prison and were asked to repay 279 million, 531 million respectively. Mahmood Karzai, one of the President’s brothers and the third largest shareholder got off scot free having repaid part of what he had “borrowed” and claiming that he did not need to repay the loan he received to buy his shares (illegal in itself) because the shares were now worthless!!! These two primary perpetrators of this crime, as well as the other 19 appealed their convictions. Farnod and Ferozi have repaid nothing and have been seen dinning around Kabul ever since. In one of his first acts as President, Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank employee, ordered: the Supreme Court to get on with the case, the confiscation of stolen assets, the prosecution of accomplices, and the immediate incarceration of those convicted pending the resolution of their appeals. Justice finally on the move? Perhaps.
At the time of Kabul bank’s collapse four years ago, young Qaseem had just recently been appointed Deputy Director General of the central bank’s Supervision Department. As one of a group of young Afghan university graduates recruited to the central bank for special mentoring under a highly successful USAID capacity building program, Qaseem, a natural leader, rose rapidly within DAB. I frequently saw him standing in the middle of an admiring circle of his peers. As a Tajik of about 5’10’’ he towered over his much shorter Pashtun colleagues making him seem taller than he really is. After his two year mentoring appointment he left DAB and Kabul for graduate studies in Kuala Lumpur. Upon his return he pondered his options for a clearly bright future and with some hesitation (and some urging from me) returned to the central bank. He had hoped for a directorship but instead was offered the position of Deputy Director General of the Supervision Department. So what crime had he committed for which he now sits in jail?
The Special Tribunal found Qaseem as well as the Governor of the central bank, Abdul Fitrat, and its First Deputy Governor, Mohibullah Safi, both of whom have now fled the country, and five other DAB employees guilty of dereliction of duty. They had failed to detect and report the cleaver fraud perpetrated by Farnod and Ferozi. Though hard working and intelligent, at 28 years old Qaseem naturally lacked the experience of seasoned banking supervisors, who would have had great difficulty detecting this fraud as well. The central bank law like those in most every other country protects its employees from prosecution for acts committed in the good faith exercise of their duties.
At least two questions leap out immediately. How could the central bank staff have been charged and convicted in the first place and why haven’t their appeals been heard until now?
It is widely believed in the international community that the charges and convictions against the central bank governor and his staff were President Karzai’s retaliation for the embarrassment caused when Governor Fitrat disclosed the names of Kabulbank shareholders and borrowers in public testimony in Parliament on April 21, 2011. The names included one of Karzai’s brothers and one of Vice President Fahim’s brothers. Governor Fitrat resigned and fled the country for the United States soon thereafter for his safety. In a normal country these vengeful convictions would have been thrown out promptly but sadly Afghanistan and especially its judiciary is one of the most corrupt in the world.
But why Qaseem and his colleagues are still sitting in jail is harder to answer. If President Ghani wishes to move away from rule by Presidential fiat, as seems the case, he is right to adhere to established procedures as painful as they are. But jailing those convicted pending the consideration of their appeal is almost unheard of in other countries, though it is satisfying to see Farnod and Ferozi finally behind bars. An honest judiciary would have thrown out the convictions of the central bank employees long ago. Let’s hope they finally do so quickly now.