Two of the former heads of Kabul Bank, Afghanistan’s first private bank, have been given five-year prison sentences by a tribunal investigating charges of fraud and embezzlement.
Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton, reporting from the Afghan capital, said there was anger and disbelief in the courtroom as the verdict against Sher Khan Farnood, the bank’s founder and chairman, and Khalilullah Ferozi, chief executive of the bank, was announced on Tuesday.
Turton said some people in the courtroom felt there was a mishandling of the investigation into the multi-million-dollar fraud that caused the collapse of the Kabul Bank in 2010.
Shamsul Rahman Shams, the judge, said that Farnood and Ferozi must pay back the money, more than $700m, they gained from the corruption described as a “Ponzi scheme” by international investigators.
In court, Farnood accused Haseen Fahim, the brother of Mohammad Qaseem Fahim, first vice president, of being one of the key organisers behind the scheme.
“The real thieves in Kabul Bank are Haseen [Fahim] and Ferozi,” he said, telling the court that he had already paid his debts since his properties in Dubai and Kabul had been confiscated.
“If this is not jungle law, let this count,” he said from the dock.
Ferozi hit back, saying: “This is not Bollywood where one can act like a hero. Everything is on paper.”
Farnood and Ferozi said they would appeal their cases to the Supreme Court.
Along with the two top executives, a total of 21 people were convicted in Tuesday’s verdict.
Other former bank employees have been sentenced to jail terms between two and four years. At least five of those are either missing or have left the country.
Abdul Qadeer Fitrat, former governor of the central bank, was also sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for mishandling the initial fraud investigation. Fitrat, who had told Al Jazeera in June 2011 that the investigation put his life in danger, was tried in absentia since he fled to the United States.
|Ex central bank chief said investigation put his life under threat|
A number of other well-connected people allegedly implicated in the scandal as shareholders, including, the brothers of Hamid Karzai, Afghan president, and Fahim were not charged by the special court.
Mahmoud Karzai agreed to pay back the funds he received in no interest loans from the bank, when the Afghan president announced last year that anyone who repaid the money they ook from the institution would not face trial.
The Independent Joint Anti-corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC), which published a November 2012 report detailing the fraud, said the sentences handed down to Farnoud and Ferozi were “of concern” to the committee.
“The jail terms are relatively light given the extent of the fraud and sentences handed down to others who appear to have had little or no involvement in the fraud”, the MEC told Al Jazeera.
Though they said Fitrat’s sentencing is a matter between Washington and Kabul, the committee said “given past statements from US officials, it seems unlikely that the sentence will be enforceable”.
Dawood Azami, an Afghan Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum, said the Afghan people expected a harsher punishment for the architects of “the near collapse of the entire banking sector” in the Central Asian nation.
Further, Azami told Al Jazeera, “given that some of those found guilty have already spent sometime in custody; Afghans in general say that they might be released soon”.
The verdict comes after three years of of investigations detailed how massive off-book loans, lavish purchases and 114 rubber stamps used for fake companies helped contribute to the embezzlement of more than $900m from the bank.
The MEC said the recovery of the $747m still missing funds will be hampered because the tribunal did not register a conviction for money laundering.