Tuesday March 5, 2013
Kabul Bank bosses jailed for five years
KABUL: An Afghan court on Tuesday sentenced 20 people, including two senior Kabul Bank executives, for their roles in a staggering $900 million fraud that caused the country's largest bank to collapse in 2010.
Judge Shamsul Rahman Shams jailed the executives for five years and ordered them to repay $808 million of the total, stolen in a sophisticated operation that saw cash used to buy homes in Britain, Dubai, Switzerland and the United States.
The bank's former chairman, Sher Khan Farnoud, and its former CEO Khalilullah Ferozi, were both in court to hear the verdicts.
Eighteen other former Kabul Bank and central bank officials were ordered jailed for between six months and four years.
It was the first time anyone has been sentenced for the scandal, but anti-corruption campaigners immediately criticised the verdicts and said it was unclear how much time those convicted would actually spend behind bars.
The scandal also touched a brother of President Hamid Karzai and a brother of Vice President Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim.
Both the brothers were shareholders in the bank and there has also been criticism that neither of them were charged.
"In comparison to the depth of the crisis, five years is far too little," former deputy foreign minister Mahmoud Saikal told AFP.
"This cost Afghanistan its credibility, caused enormous losses, and the court verdicts only came after huge international pressure."
Kabul Bank was seized by the government in 2010 after the exposure of the fraud, which led the International Monetary Fund temporarily to halt its hundreds of millions of dollars of loans to Afghanistan.
Renamed New Kabul Bank, it was later bailed out by the government.
The criminal proceedings have been watched closely by Western donors for signs that the country is finally tackling rampant government corruption.
Donors have pledged billions of dollars in aid after NATO combat troops withdraw in 2014, but have demanded that corruption is brought under control.
The findings of an inquiry published in November found that top Afghan politicians dictated who should face prosecution. It detailed how money had been smuggled abroad in airline food trays.
"Today was a disappointment," the inquiry report's authors said after the sentences were announced. "International standards require sanctions that are proportionate, dissuasive and effective."
In court, Farnoud accused Haseen Fahim, the brother of Afghan Vice President Mohammad Qaseem Fahim, of being one of the key organisers behind the scheme.
"The real thieves in Kabul Bank are Haseen (Fahim) and Ferozi," he said, telling the court that he had already paid his debts since his properties in Dubai and Kabul had been confiscated.
"If this is not jungle law, let this count," he said from the dock.
Ferozi hit back, saying: "This is not Bollywood where one can act like a hero. Everything is on paper."
Farnoud and Ferozi were then taken into custody, though details of where they are being detained were not known. The judge ordered them to repay $278 million and $530 million respectively.
"This is not a final verdict, the suspects have the right to appeal," the judge added. Among those sentenced in absentia on Tuesday was Qadir Fitrat, the former governor of the central bank, who fled to the United States in 2011.
He was found guilty of abuse of authority and failing to report the scam, and was sentenced two years in jail.
Last month officials said that only one bidder - an Afghan consortium - had come forward to buy the remnants of the bank, after four other interested parties withdrew. -AFP