Millions of dollars went missing as Afghanistan fell, watchdog says

KABUL — Tens of millions of dollars disappeared from Afghan government bank accounts during the Taliban takeover in August, according to a U.S. government watchdog report released Monday, the latest in a series detailing the collapse of the Afghan government and its military.

The assessment by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, examined allegations that Afghan government officials took tens of millions of dollars with them as they fled the country. Former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani was accused of loading millions of dollars onto the helicopters that he and his close aides used to flee Kabul as Taliban fighters entered the city.

After the Taliban’s sudden military takeover of Afghanistan, media reports emerged alleging Ghani stole over $150 million in government funds when he fled, feeding public anger with the former leader for leaving Afghanistan. Ghani’s departure is seen by many as the decisive event that allowed Taliban forces to walk into Kabul and take complete control of the country.

SIGAR found the theft of millions by Ghani “unlikely” but said the former president did leave with some cash, adding that “evidence indicates that this number did not exceed $1 million and may have been closer in value to $500,000.”

The report quotes one former senior official who fled with Ghani on the helicopters stating, “everyone had $5,000 to $10,000 in their pockets. … No one had millions.” The official was not named in the public version of the assessment. Ghani has repeatedly denied the allegations of theft.

Among the reasons SIGAR found it unlikely Ghani stole millions as he fled the country are details of his final hours in the palace. SIGAR determined Ghani’s departure was sudden, not leaving the leader or his aides time to collect the cash.

The report also assessed that over $150 million in hundred-dollar bills “would have been difficult to conceal” and if “stacked end to end … would be somewhat larger than a standard American three-seater couch.”

Ghani and many of those who fled with him live in the United Arab Emirates, which welcomed him and his family on humanitarian grounds.

But tens of millions of dollars remain unaccounted for. SIGAR found evidence of “$5 million taken from the presidential palace and tens of millions taken from the vault at the National Directorate of Security,” the former Afghan government’s main intelligence agency. The investigation has not determined whether the money was removed from the country by government officials.

“With Afghan government records and surveillance videos from those final days likely in Taliban hands, SIGAR is currently unable to determine how much money was ultimately stolen, and by whom,” the report said.

One of the largest budgets SIGAR is investigating is the estimated $70 million in cash in the hands of Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency for discretionary use, like the funding of “anti-Taliban militias and to maintain the support of local power brokers and communities.” When the Taliban reached the vault on Aug. 15, only a few bills of Afghan currency remained, a former senior official told SIGAR. The official was also not named in the public version of the report.

The report stated that its investigation into stolen Afghan assets is ongoing.

Susannah George is The Washington Post’s Afghanistan and Pakistan bureau chief. She previously headed the Associated Press’s Baghdad bureau and covered national security and intelligence from the AP’s Washington bureau. 
Millions of dollars went missing as Afghanistan fell, watchdog says