The embezzlement of hundreds of millions of dollars at Kabul Bank nearly led to the collapse of the entire Afghan financial system. Now, a court has sentenced the bank's top managers.
A special tribunal in Afghanistan has sentenced the founding director and the former managing director of Kabul Bank each to five-year jail terms. Furthermore, the two managers have to pay back some $820 million (541 million euros) in funds they embezzled from the bank. Another 20 bank employees were also convicted of having known of the scheme and handed prison terms.
However, Afghan journalist, Fahim Dashti, argues that the case is not yet over: "For everybody here in Afghanistan it is clear that the politicians are involved. Political influence is preventing an acceptable conclusion to this investigation. Kabul Bank will not be able to regain all the money wasted by these people, which include the brothers of the president and the vice-president, who are also alleged to be involved."
After its founding in 2004, Kabul Bank quickly grew to become Afghanistan's leading financial institution with more than one million account holders - quite an accomplishment for a war-torn country with no banking tradition. But according to Najeeb Azizi, an economist at Kabul University, there is an easy explanation for this.
"The political elite turned Kabul Bank into Afghanistan's largest commercial bank. All the salaries of government employees and the military went through this bank exclusively. All water and electricity bills also had to go through the bank."
Apparently, for years, this was the perfect breeding ground for corruption - until the big bang came in 2010, when it was no longer possible to hide the fact that a lot of money - more than $900 million - was missing. Among the shareholders of the bank were a brother of President Karzai and a brother of Vice-President Fahim. But neither belonged to the circle of defendants in the court case.
"The political elite is trying to hide the realities and the facts. They are basically trying to promote the non-actors as the major stakeholders in this crisis," said economist Aziz.
A joint Afghan and international investigation published a report in November 2012 documenting the system of fraud without naming those who profited from it.
According to the report, the money disappeared in bad loans, bogus companies and investment funds in Dubai. Large cash sums were also smuggled out of the country with the aid of the now defunct Afghan airline, Pamir.
Brink of bankruptcy
The crisis at Kabul Bank pushed Afghanistan to the brink of bankruptcy. The international community intervened. Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, promised to clear up the issue and installed a special tribunal to demonstrate his commitment to fighting corruption. But, journalist Dashti emphasizes that there is plenty of room for doubt.
"Finally, someone will investigate this case and President Karzai could be blamed for lack of action, even if it involves his own brother or the brother of the vice president. Karzai needs to act as long as he is in office; otherwise, he will pay for it the long run," says Dashti.
But then again, maybe not. Karzai's term ends in 2014; in precisely the year that NATO plans to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. Both sides have not illustrated any great yearning to pursue this case to its logical legal conclusion. Kabul Bank, too, is still in business; but today it's called New Kabul Bank.