Afghanistan’s president didn’t make off with oodles of cash as he fled the country last summer, but someone seems to have, according to an inspector general’s report Monday that says a vital security account was drained of funds the day before the Taliban took over.
Accusations that former President Ashraf Ghani made off with $169 million in his helicopter can’t be true, said the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). The chopper simply couldn’t have concealed and carried what would have amounted to nearly 2 tons of cash, investigators said.
Someone did manage to get “tens of millions of dollars” from a vault at the National Directorate of Security. The money disappeared on Aug. 14, a day before Mr. Ghani fled and the Taliban arrived in Kabul.
Investigators couldn’t figure out who took the money or say definitively that it came from U.S. taxpayers, but they suggested it was a good bet. Half of Afghanistan’s budget came from donors. The U.S. was the largest operator, and public reports said the CIA funded the National Directorate of Security.
The report delivers a fascinating look at the Afghan government’s collapse in August in anticipation of the U.S. troop withdrawal.
Investigators said Mr. Ghani had to flee so quickly that he was barefoot and someone had to run and find him a pair of his shoes. His staff feared his guard might turn on him and execute him, given the speed of the Taliban takeover.
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The president was whisked to the airport, where helicopters flew him out of the city.
Once in the air, they realized they didn’t have a plan for where to go. Expectations of heading to areas still believed to be friendly to the government faded. The helicopters limped to Uzbekistan, where they landed as they ran out of fuel.
Investigators said the president and his entourage, about 54 people, had limited cash with them. They had to use $120,000 to charter a flight to Abu Dhabi, where the government quarantined them.
The inspector general concluded that no more than $1 million, and maybe as little as $500,000, was spirited away from the presidential palace during Mr. Ghani’s evacuation.
Arrangements for the charter flight out of Uzbekistan and for accommodations ate up much of that money, the investigators said.
Russian officials, echoed by an Afghan ambassador, suggested that $169 million was flown out on the helicopters. Investigators said that couldn’t have happened.
“This amount of cash would have been difficult to conceal,” the inspector general concluded.
Investigators spoke with a number of former Afghan officials to piece together their accounts but said they had limits. For one thing, the people they were questioning were often the ones others accused of stealing money.
Two former officials said $5 million in cash had been stashed at the presidential palace and was discovered by guards. Some officials said it was Mr. Ghani’s personal fortune. Others said it was leftover campaign money for Mr. Ghani provided by the United Arab Emirates.
What became of the cash is also in doubt.
“SIGAR was unable to draw any definitive conclusion about the provenance, purpose or fate of the funds allegedly left behind at the palace,” the audit said.
Monday’s report is based on interim findings, and investigators said they hope to have more answers before issuing their final report.