September 22, 2023

Karzai Demands U.S. Hand Over Afghan Banker

The former governor of the Central Bank, Qadir Fitrat, is living in Virginia. He fled Afghanistan, saying he feared for his life after he was involved in making public the massive fraud at Kabul Bank and removing its senior management.

Neither of the top bank officers nor any of the major shareholders, who include a brother of Mr. Karzai’s and a brother of the first vice president, Marshal Fahim, have been prosecuted, although all of them are still in Afghanistan.

Referring to Mr. Fitrat, Mr. Karzai said, “The government of the United States should cooperate and hand him over to us.”

“Bring Fitrat and hand him over to Afghanistan to make clear who is to blame,” he said. “But our hand can’t reach to America.”

Mr. Karzai made the remarks at an event sponsored by the United Nations to mark International Anti-Corruption Day. Afghanistan is one of the world’s most corrupt countries, tying for second worst in rankings by Transparency International, which tracks perceptions of global corruption.

Several Western diplomats and officials working with the Afghan government said they were disappointed by Mr. Karzai’s speech, in which he appeared to again shift much of the blame for corruption to foreigners. While foreigners are unquestionably involved in some of the corruption, they shared responsibility with the Afghans and were only peripherally involved in the Kabul Bank debacle.

Mr. Karzai also asked that foreigners who give aid to the country tell Afghan officials if government officials or their relatives ask for bribes. Foreign governments have helped finance anticorruption efforts, but the Afghans have often squashed high-profile corruption prosecutions of senior officials. That has been a continuing effort by NATO to comb through military contracts with Afghan businesses to detect corruption and terminate contracts in which there has been manifest abuse. That effort has gone on largely behind the scenes, so it is difficult to tell if it has had much success.

Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador, said he believed that corruption was now being taken more seriously, although progress was slow and none of the main people responsible for the Kabul Bank fraud had been prosecuted. The Afghan government lost more than $850 million in the bank’s collapse. While some of that money has been recovered — more than expected, according to several officials — the government will probably have to pay $450 million to $500 million to cover losses.

“I am told they have a series of indictments that have been kept in the pending file as they concentrate on asset recovery,” Mr. Crocker told reporters on Saturday. “Look, it’s hardly a perfect world. And it isn’t going to be for quite some time. What I look for is a trajectory: Is the line going up or down? Very cautiously and very incrementally, I see it going up. In other words, corruption is being taken more seriously at higher levels.”

“Does that mean we’ve turned the corner? We’ll see,” he added.

Mr. Karzai’s focus on Mr. Fitrat and his jab at the United States are the latest in a series of similar comments he has made about the fraud at Kabul Bank. In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel last week, he also blamed the United States for Kabul Bank’s troubles, saying, “The Americans never told us about this.”

“We believed a certain embassy was trying to create financial trouble for us,” he said. “We felt the whole bank scam was created by foreign hands.” Mr. Karzai declined to be specific, but the American Embassy is the only one that has deeply consulted with the Afghan banking system.

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