New Delhi: The allegations that former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani and his senior advisors fled Afghanistan on the afternoon of 15 August, 2021, with millions in cash are “unlikely to be true”, according to a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the US government’s leading oversight authority on Afghanistan reconstruction.
Last year, after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, it was reported that Ghani and his senior aides had fled the country with cash worth millions of dollars loaded onto the helicopters that flew them to Uzbekistan.
The SIGAR report, dated 7 June, 2022, found that some cash was taken from the grounds of the palace and loaded onto these helicopters but that this number did not “exceed $1 million and may have been closer in value to $500,000”.
Last year, Russia’s embassy in Kabul claimed that Ghani had also fled with four cars and even had to leave some money behind as not all of it would fit. However, the SIGAR report says that about $440,000, belonging to the Afghan government, was taken by Ghani and his aides, who used three helicopters to flee. The money is believed to have come from “several Afghan government operating budgets normally managed at the palace”.
The former head of the Presidential Protective Service (PPS), General Qaher Kochai, and former deputy national security advisor Rafi Fazil were, according to the report, carrying luggage containing $200,000 and $240,000 in cash, respectively.
“Kochai’s suitcase carried the monthly discretionary cash budget for the PPS, approximately 20 million Afghanis (around $200,000), which was retrieved from the PPS office as they prepared to depart,” said the report. “Deputy National Security Advisor Rafi Fazil’s backpack contained the monthly discretionary cash budget for the National Security Council, approximately $240,000, which was retrieved from the NSC’s finance department as they prepared to depart.”
SIGAR interviewed more than 30 former Afghan officials, including a number of individuals who flew out of the country on the president’s helicopters, for the report. It also used documentary evidence and media reports to verify informant claims.
The report also mentioned that approximately $5 million in cash was allegedly left behind under “suspicious circumstances” at the presidential palace in Kabul.
“The origins and purpose of this money are disputed, but it was supposedly divided by members of the Presidential Protective Service after the helicopters departed but before the Taliban captured the palace,” the report said.
Countering Russian claims
SIGAR also disputed a claim made by the Russian embassy in Kabul at the time of the Taliban takeover — that $169 million was onboard Ghani’s helicopters.
According to the US government report, an amount of $169 million in hundred-dollar bills would have weighed about 1,688 kilograms (3,722 pounds) — larger than a three-seater couch — and been too “difficult to conceal”.
“It would be quite substantial in terms of bulk and heft: $169 million in hundred-dollar bills, stacked end to end, would form a block 7.5 feet long, three feet wide, and three feet tall…The Mi-17 helicopters that the group flew on do not have separate cargo holds. Therefore, all of the cargo would have been visible in the cabin next to the passengers,” said the report.
It further quoted a former senior Afghan official who said: “We could not have fit 40 people and all that cash [in three helicopters]”.
On 19 August, 2021, the Afghan ambassador to Tajikistan, Mohammad Zahir Aghbar, had made claims similar to that of the Russian embassy in Kabul. He, too, accused Ghani of stealing $169 million from state funds, and called on Interpol to arrest him.
Aghbar declined to sit for an interview with SIGAR, added the report.
(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)