Arrest warrant issued against Afghan banker

Move follows Abdul Qadir Fitrat's resignation as central bank governor citing threats to his life over Kabul Bank scam.

    Fitrat said he had exposed some people who were responsible for the crisis in Kabul Bank [EPA]

    An arrest warrant has been issued for Abdul Qadir Fitrat, the former governor of Afghanistan's central bank, for his alleged role in the failure of the nation's largest private lender.

    Fitrat announced his resignation from his position on Tuesday after fleeing to the US, citing threats to his life for leading an investigation into a scandal surrounding the Kabul Bank.

    Just hours later, Rahmatullah Nazari, Afghanistan's deputy attorney general, said Fitrat and other officials at the central bank faced prosecution for not acting on warnings about widespread corruption at Kabul Bank.

    The bank nearly collapsed last year because of mismanagement and questionable lending practices.

    Nazari said that the arrest warrant for Fitrat had been sent to Interpol and the US embassy in Kabul to return Fitrat to Afghanistan for questioning.

    Separately, Waheed Omar, the spokesperson of President Hamid Karzai, said Fitrat had not notified the Afghan government of his resignation.

    Fitrat's account

    Speaking to the media on Monday in a Virginia suburb near Washington DC, Fitrat said: "The reason I was not able to resign in Kabul was because my life was completely in danger.

    "This was particularly true after I spoke to the parliament and exposed some people who were responsible for the crisis of Kabul Bank."

    Kabul Bank was founded in 2004 by Sherkhan Farnood, a leading international poker player.

    Its co-owners included Mahmood Karzai, a brother of Karzai, and  Hassin Fahim, a brother of Mohammad Qasim Fahim, the Afghan vice-president.

    The bank was taken over last year by Afghanistan's central bank after claims that executives had granted themselves off-the-book loans worth a reported $900m that were partly used to buy luxury properties in Dubai.

    In April, Fitrat named prominent figures who were allegedly involved in the scandal at the bank.

    Fitrat alleged that Mahmood Karzai had taken out $22m and Hassin Fahim another $78m.

    Haji Khalil Ferzoi, who had been the financial adviser during Karzai's re-election campaign, had taken out $66.9m, Fitrat said.

    'Escaping justice'

    In an interview to Al Jazeera on Tuesday, Mahmood Karzai has said there is no reason for Fitrat to feel threatened.

    "He has merely escaped justice in Afghanistan," he said. "A new report published by the commission accuses [Fitrat] of gross negligence ... he did not escape before the findings of the commission. He only left after the report was released and sent to the president and the attorney general.

    "It is a shame that in Afghanistan, once accused of corruption, people can simply go overseas and claim that their life is under threat."

    Mahmood Karzai responds to the resignation in an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera

    Ramazan Bashardost, an Afghan MP and a former presidential candidate, said Fitrat's flight to the US was on account of covering up the scam.

    Speaking to Al Jazeera, he alleged that Fitrat had allowed the irregularities despite the bank being audited twice every year.

    "Surely he knew and let it happen ... I think he left Afghanistan with an understanding with others involved in the mess - that if he remained in the country, he would be forced to expose other names that he has so far resisted on," Bashardost said.

    "He saw everything closely from the inside - if all that information comes out, this whole thing will explode."

    The International Monetary Fund wants the Karzai government to wind down Kabul Bank before it releases a new assistance programme, on which hinges billions of dollars in international aid money.

    "We take note of Fitrat's decision to step down as central bank governor," Raphael Anspach, an IMF spokesman, was quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal.

    "We look forward to continue discussing with his successor ways to improve the Afghan banking system in the period ahead."

    About 80 per cent of government employees are thought to receive their wages through the bank, Afghanistan's biggest commercial lender.

    Karzai's criticism

    Karzai has criticised international institutions for allegedly failing to unearth Kabul Bank's problems, and his government has hinted that it could pull out of talks with the IMF despite the possible financial damage.

    A week ago, Omar Zakhilwal, Afghanistan's finance minister, said the government was "running out of patience" and accused the IMF of "playing games" over the crisis at Kabul Bank.

    However, in announcing his resignation, Fitrat accused Afghan authorities of dragging their feet on the promised legal action.

    In an interview with the Reuters news agency, Fitrat said he had expected the probe would "help bring a closure" to the Kabul Bank scandal, but instead it had "brought more danger and it brought more conspiracy against me and against my life".

    The scandal has highlighted chaos and corruption in Afghanistan's financial system at a time when US-led combat troops are looking to exit the country, a decade after ousting the Taliban rulers.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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