Watchdog: Kabul airport still not counting cash

Authorities at Kabul International Airport (KBL) are not properly counting and recording billions of dollars in bulk cash flowing out of the country through customs offices, a new U.S. report states. Afghanistan is a cash economy, with more than $11 billion in currency leaving the country in 2011. The United States helped airport authorities acquire ...

SIGAR
SIGAR
SIGAR

Authorities at Kabul International Airport (KBL) are not properly counting and recording billions of dollars in bulk cash flowing out of the country through customs offices, a new U.S. report states.

Afghanistan is a cash economy, with more than $11 billion in currency leaving the country in 2011. The United States helped airport authorities acquire bulk counting machines, and trained officials on procedures to track the funds as part of an anti-corruption effort.  

But the government’s independent watchdog, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko, said on Tuesday that more than one year since the last inspection, the counting machines (pictured above) were not connected to the Internet, storing serial numbers, or building databases as required for proper oversight.

Authorities at Kabul International Airport (KBL) are not properly counting and recording billions of dollars in bulk cash flowing out of the country through customs offices, a new U.S. report states.

Afghanistan is a cash economy, with more than $11 billion in currency leaving the country in 2011. The United States helped airport authorities acquire bulk counting machines, and trained officials on procedures to track the funds as part of an anti-corruption effort.  

But the government’s independent watchdog, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko, said on Tuesday that more than one year since the last inspection, the counting machines (pictured above) were not connected to the Internet, storing serial numbers, or building databases as required for proper oversight.

“These machines, which can record and report serial numbers of currency, are regarded as important anti-money laundering tools,” said Phil LaVelle, spokesman for the SIGAR office, which is located in Virginia.

Sopko also raised concerns about a new dignitary lounge, which allows high-ranking officials to pass through the airport, with onle a declaration of their cash holdings — not counting or tracking them — and an Afghan decree raising the limit on cash holdings that needed to be declared from $10,000 to $20,000.

“This change,” Sopko argued, U.S. officials believe, “is likely to increase the risk of illicit bulk cash movement and further weaken controls for monitoring money movements at KBL because it makes it easier for individuals to engage in a practice called ‘structuring,’ in which transactions such as money transfers or drug purchases are conducted repeatedly in smallamounts to avoid suspicion.”

For good measure, the SIGAR also complained the cash-counting machines were not in secure locations, and security cameras meant to watch for bulk cash flow were installed in passenger baggage areas, not in VIP and cargo areas.

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

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