Kabul Bank began as ‘Ponzi scheme’: Audit

Nov 28 2012, 10:13 IST
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SummaryKabul Bank became Afghanistan’s largest financial institution by offering promise of modern banking to people who had never had saving or checking acct.

Kabul Bank became Afghanistan’s largest financial institution by offering the promise of modern banking to people who had never had a saving or checking account. What it really dealt in was modern theft. “From its very beginning,” according to a confidential forensic audit of Kabul Bank, “the bank was a well-concealed Ponzi scheme.”

Afghan and American officials had for years promoted Kabul Bank as a prime example of how Western-style banking was transforming a war-ravaged economy. But the audit, prepared this year for Afghanistan’s central bank by the Kroll investigative firm, gives new details of how the bank instead was institutionalizing fraud that reached into hundreds of millions of dollars and obliterated Afghans’ trust after regulators finally seized the bank in August 2010 and the theft was revealed.

Going further than previous reports, the audit asserts that Kabul Bank had little reason to exist other than to allow a narrow clique tied to President Hamid Karzai’s government to siphon riches from depositors, who were the bank’s only substantial source of revenue.

At one point, Kroll’s investigators found 114 rubber stamps for fake companies used to give forged documents a more legitimate look. And the auditing firms used by the bank never took issue with loan books that were “almost entirely fraudulent,” Kroll found, recommending that the Afghan government explore suing the last such auditor, A F Ferguson & Co., a private Pakistani firm with a franchise under PricewaterhouseCoopers.

When Afghan regulators, aided by US officials, first discovered the extent of the fraud at the bank in the summer of 2010, “we never imagined that the criminality was as deep as it was, that it was so widespread and that it included high-ranking officials and their relatives,” said Abdul Qadeer Fitrat, at the time the governor of the Bank of Afghanistan, the country’s central bank.

Reached for comment, Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, stressed that the president considered the audit incomplete. “Karzai still believes Kroll has to find out where all the missing money has gone, to which countries it was sent and to which accounts if the firm wants the report to be seen as credible,” Faizi said.

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