A shadowy syndicate with “clear and substantial” links to the family of President Hamid Karzai and their closest business partners has spirited massive amounts of hard currency through the smuggling gateway known as Kabul Airport, mainly to the Gulf banking haven of Dubai.
Since 2007, the group has exploited the airport’s compromised policing and customs procedures. The controls were weakened by interference from the Karzai regime’s top law enforcement appointees, as reported first here at Skyreporter.com (from page 43 forward in Recent Stories).
One European diplomat tells Skyreporter: “There can be no doubt on the matter. The interconnectivity of banking, security, airline and other assets indicates clear and substantial links to the Karzai family and their associates.”
The revelations concern an organization separate and distinct from New Ansari, the cash-swapping enterprise under investigation by U.S. and Afghan officials.
Investigators suspect New Ansari of laundering both profits from heroin trafficking and cash generated by the Taliban. They complain that President Karzai is obstructing the U.S.-backed agencies probing the scam.
Like Ansari, the network linked to the Karzais declared some cash exports to the regime’s banking and customs authorities, according to sources speaking on condition of anonymity. But the sheer volume of currency begs any credible explanation of where the money comes from.
“The Obama administration and our own governments are finally coming to grasp the full extent of the problem,” says the European official, who also asks to remain unnamed due to increasing tensions within Kabul’s diplomatic community over how to address corruption, which is rapidly turning the Western-sponsored Afghan regime into a global pariah.
“It’s no surprise that Karzai is resisting investigations. His brothers Qayoom, Mahmoud and Wali and their political allies are among the main beneficiaries.”
Qayoom Karzai gained notoriety as the member of Afghanistan’s parliament least likely to attend sittings, but whose personal fortune has surged within a business empire led by his profiteering 55-year-old brother Mahmoud. The network also includes half-brother Ahmed Wali, the family’s rapacious point man in Kandahar.
The organization is bolstered by Hamid Karzai’s top political allies, the same strongmen who bankrolled his fraud-ridden 2009 campaign for re-election.
From London, a forensic specialist experienced in tracing misdirected aid funding tells Skyreporter: “The Karzais have got it covered, right from their compounds in Kabul and Kandahar to the banks of Dubai. They’ve got armed convoys on the ground, no customs hassles at Kabul Airport and even their own airline to the Gulf.
“Add to that an embarrassment of cash riches, and you’ve got a fully integrated network.” The analyst cannot be named due to ongoing investigations in London, Dubai and Kabul.
Although the capital’s airport began to bleed contraband from the earliest days of its reopening by the U.S.-led coalition, sources agree that the smuggling of heroin, cash and other valuables exploded in the wake of the dismantling of effective policing in the autumn of 2006.
The new revelations concern the timeframe commencing in mid-2008, shortly after Mahmoud Karzai and his partner Sherkhan Farnood flexed the muscle of their central business, Kabul Bank, the richest of Afghanistan’s 17 banks, to scoop up Pamir Airways, a competitor to the country’s other airlines, Ariana and Kam.
Frequent commuters on Pamir’s two-and-a-half-hour flight from Kabul to Dubai regularly witnessed men boarding at Kabul Airport after all other passengers had been seated. These travellers, lugging heavy cartons or suitcases, were driven to the plane in armoured SUVs manned by armed guards.
Skyreporter’s police sources have confirmed the guards as employees of Khurasan Security Services, a firm created by Khalil Fruzi, Kabul Bank’s executive officer and one of Karzai’s and Farnood’s key associates. Khurasan is now nominally run by Fruzi’s brother.
Once on board the Pamir 737s, the couriers were escorted by the cabin crew to seats evidently held vacant for them.
“One time I asked this man if I could help,” a witness tells Skyreporter. “He was well dressed, he wore a Western suit. He said ‘thanks, but I can manage.’ Then he pushed a big box onto an open seat. It looked so heavy when it came down. I asked how much it weighed and he said 50 kilos. He was very relaxed, like he did this every day.”
Currency dealers estimate that 50 kilos of the note most common to large-scale exchange in Afghanistan, the U.S. $100 bill, could total $5 million or more.
The witness, who asks that his name be withheld out of concern for his family’s safety, says that when he saw the same man bearing a similar load on a third occasion, he asked an acquaintance among the Pamir Airways cabin crew what was going on.
“He told me: ‘it’s money going to Dubai.’ He said this happened on at least one Pamir flight on that route each day. Sometimes the courier had two or three boxes or suitcases.”
Similar accounts come from a former Pamir Airways employee in the Afghan capital, as well as security officials at Kabul Airport and airline ground agents at Dubai’s Terminal Two, the emirate’s smaller regional terminal used by Afghanistan’s carriers.
A police source says that in Kabul, “sometimes the packages are taken through the VIP channel, but many times the money is taken from the armoured car to the airplane directly.
“There is no attempt to hide this, and everyone understands that only money or other very valuable goods would be handled in this way.”
The Pamir frequent flyer tells Skyreporter he eventually struck up conversations with the well-dressed courier, who gave his name as Haji Rafi Kandahary.
On later trips the witness saw another man, dressed casually in jeans and shirt “like a European”, also carrying boxes or suitcases similar to Kandahary’s.
“I spoke with this other man several times. He said his name was Haji Bashir, originally from Kandahar but now living in Herat. Again I asked my friend in the crew who this man was, and I was told he was a courier working for Pamir Airways carrying money from Kabul Bank.”
According to the forensic specialist: “this isn’t some small-time hawala operation, swapping capital from one location to another, one person or business to another.
“This is industrial strength exporting. It’s a disgrace to every nation with personnel on the ground in Afghanistan.”
Previously the Karzai brothers have denied any wrongdoing when confronted over their business and paramilitary affairs. Hamid Karzai claims he earns only $525 a month as president, has only $19,000 in the bank and owns no land or property.
“These are effortless claims to make,” according to the European diplomat, “particularly given the indirect ownership enjoyed by members of the Kabul government.”
Here again, Kabul Bank’s Sherkhan Farnood enters the picture. Farnood enables an unknown number of regime figures to benefit from multi-million dollar villas in Dubai by way of titles in Farnood’s name.
Among these are Karzai’s first vice-president, Mohammed Fahim, and Fahim’s brother Haji Hasin, who runs his family’s lucrative businesses. Hasin is one of the Afghan regime’s richest men. And like Mahmoud Karzai, he is one of the principal owners of Kabul Bank.
Meanwhile, the Afghan people pay the price for corruption, and do so in money and blood.
Last year, Afghan civilians paid a billion dollars in bribes to underlings in the Karzai regime’s bureaucracy and security forces, according to Integrity Watch Afghanistan. Against an average yearly per capita income of just $502, that’s $156 in bribes.
U.S. officials like General David Petraeus and envoy Richard Holbrooke admit that one of the Taliban’s key recruiting tools is their ability to point at the rampant criminality in and around the Western-backed regime, its “malignancy” of corruption, in Holbrooke’s words.
Yet blameless Afghan children, women and men continue to die in the crossfire, a small detail that hasn't caused even a ripple of turbulence for Air Karzai.