(ARLINGTON, Va.) — Afghan security officials allowed “very very important” persons to slip through their major airport with piles of cash, unchecked by American-bought money trackers, creating a “deeply troubling” vulnerability in Afghanistan’s struggle against money laundering, according to a new U.S. government report.
The report, published by the U.S.’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction Tuesday, details the failures by Afghan officials to implement Operation FinTRAX, a program that was meant to utilize bulk currency counters that are capable of recording currency serial numbers at Kabul International Airport and pass them off to the Financial Transactions and Records Analysis Center of Afghanistan (FinTRACA) where they’re stored and can be used in investigations into financial crimes, drug operations or terrorist activity.
That’s how it would work, at least, if the machines were actually connected to anything.
The report said that when an inspection team visited Kabul International in April 2011, the currency counters were only being used to count cash declared by normal passengers but were not connected to the Internet — and, therefore, not the FinTRACA — and they weren’t being used at all whenever any VIPs flew breezed through. Additionally, high-ranking officials and others known as “Very Very Important Persons” (VVIPs), were allowed to go through their own lounge without going through the main customs screening and did not have to submit their cash to the bulk currency counters.
At the time of the visit, Afghan officials could not explain why the counters weren’t being properly used, the report says, but one Department of Homeland Security official told the inspectors the Afghans were “afraid they would experience negative repercussions from [the Afghan government] if progress in instituting controls at the airport was made.” Several top airport officials did not immediately respond to after-hours requests for comment by email from ABC News.
The report says that in a country where an estimated $4.5 billion was spirited abroad last year, the bulk cash movements — and the airport’s failures to track them — hinder the fight against money laundering, a “tool often used to finance terrorist, narcotics, and other illicit operations.”
“The persistent delays in instituting basic anti-money laundering procedures… are deeply troubling,” the report concludes. “Although proper controls to monitor cash flows are important for any country to institute, they are particularly critical for a country fraught with corruption, narcotics trafficking, and insurgent activity.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Samantha Beech, CNN
Joe Sterling and Darran Simon, CNN