$50 million in U.S. funds stolen from Afghan bank account
Fifty million dollars in stolen U.S. funds that investigators had located in an Afghan bank account last year have suddenly gone missing while under the Afghan government’s watch, according to a top federal watchdog. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko made the stunning revelation in a scathing speech accusing the Afghan ...
Fifty million dollars in stolen U.S. funds that investigators had located in an Afghan bank account last year have suddenly gone missing while under the Afghan government's watch, according to a top federal watchdog.
Fifty million dollars in stolen U.S. funds that investigators had located in an Afghan bank account last year have suddenly gone missing while under the Afghan government’s watch, according to a top federal watchdog.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko made the stunning revelation in a scathing speech accusing the Afghan government of being a "criminal patronage network" from civil servant to the highest officials. Sopko, warning of an inept oversight of American taxpayer funds, claimed on Wednesday that the millions went missing after his office served the Afghan government an order to freeze the account.
"Briefly put, we identified roughly $50 million stolen from the U.S. government which was sitting in an Afghan bank account," Sopko said, in prepared remarks of a speech delivered at the New America Foundation.
"We obtained a court order here in the United States and served it on the Afghan government to get them to seize the money. For months we pressed the Afghan attorney general’s office to freeze the account and begin the legal process to allow us to seize the cash. At first, we were told the bank account was frozen and the money protected. Unfortunately, as is too many times the case, a few weeks ago we learned that the money was mysteriously unfrozen by some powerful bureaucrat in Kabul. Now, most of it is gone."
Spoko, in his speech, said the case was one of many examples of why it was time for the U.S. to consider withholding vital aid to Afghanistan in order to pressure Kabul into adopting stronger financial protections.
Philip LaVelle, spokesman for the SIGAR, said Sopko first revealed that the funds were missing during questioning before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on April 10. But the case went unreported in the media as it was one of several examples of Afghan corruption and mismanagement Sopko mentioned that day. SIGAR had not publicized the case further because it remains sealed by a federal U.S. judge, according to LaVelle.
Sopko only referenced it again on Wednesday, but in last month’s exchange with House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., made clear his sense of being hoodwinked.
"It was supposed to be frozen. For six months, we’ve been negotiating with the attorney general’s office in Afghanistan. And, lo and behold, last weekend, mysteriously, the money was unfrozen and it’s gone.
"This, I fear, is the future in Afghanistan."
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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