Report: Afghan politics hampers Kabul Bank case

KABUL, Afghanistan — Political interference stymied an investigation into the collapse of Afghanistan’s largest bank, according to an independent report of how the men at Kabul Bank and their friends and relatives got rich off $861 million in fraudulent loans.

The 87-page report, released Wednesday, details how politics played a role in who was charged in the case and why it took prosecutors so long to render indictments. Its findings reinforce the image of Afghanistan as deeply corrupt. If those who carried out the fraud are not punished, it will likely be more difficult for the West to donate money to this impoverished nation where U.S. and NATO forces are trying to extricate themselves from an 11-year-old war.

The bank’s collapse and subsequent bailout represents more than 5 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product, making it one of the largest banking failures in the world. Hundreds of millions of dollars were sent out of Afghanistan — some in airplane food trays.

The report depicts the Kabul Bank scandal as a saga about money-grabbing, weak banking oversight, lax prosecution, nepotism and fraud. The cast of characters includes a poker-playing bank chairman, an Afghan central bank head who feared his life was endangered and fled to the U.S., the wealthy relatives of the Afghan president and vice president, and bank shareholders — some of whom bought posh properties in Dubai and spent lavishly on themselves and their circle of friends and relatives.

The bank, which was licensed in 2004 and grew to become Afghanistan’s largest financial institution, was run like a Ponzi scheme under nascent banking oversight, according to the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee, which issued the report.