Banker Flees Afghanistan In Fear For His Life

Over the past couple of years, hundreds of millions of dollars have disappeared from Afghanistan's biggest private bank. Abdul Qadeer Fitrat was in charge of investigating what happened to Kabul Bank's money. Fitrat tells Renee Montagne he resigned and fled the country because his life was in danger.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now in Afghanistan, today, officials say they've arrested two men who, for years, ran that country's biggest private bank, and allegedly ran it into the ground with fraudulent loans worth hundreds of millions of dollars. These are the first arrests in connection with the near collapse of Kabul Bank the key institution that provides the payroll for government workers, police officers, and teachers.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Today's news comes as another top banker says he fears for his life. The longtime chief of Afghanistan's central bank resigned and fled Afghanistan after his investigation into fraud at Kabul Bank led up to the doors of the presidential palace.

Since fleeing, former Central Bank Chief, Abdul Qadir Fitrat, has been accused of being involved in the fraud, by the government. We reached him in Northern Virginia.

Mr. ABDUL QADIR FITRAT (Former Governor, Kabul Bank): Kabul Bank was indeed a tragedy. There were a number of shareholders. Among them, the brother of the president and also the brother of vice president, and a number of others. These shareholders, illegally and under fictitious names, they took loans way in excess of regulatory threshold. And they took away these loans under different names, under the name of their drivers, their servants and et cetera; and took away this money and invested in properties in Dubai and elsewhere.

MONTAGNE: And these loans for massive amounts of money - millions of dollars. These loans were given out without any real checking into either the identity of the borrower or that person's ability to pay it back.

Mr. FITRAT: Not at all. These were mostly undocumented loans issued to shareholders and owners of this bank.

MONTAGNE: When you recently presented all that you found in your investigation as the head of the central bank, what was the response?

Mr. FITRAT: Well, I made presentation to the parliament. I made presentation many times to the president. And I requested creation of special tribunal. I requested the creation of a special prosecution. I also requested, officially, that I want the prosecution to be conducted in public - in front of civil societies, in front of representatives of the international communities. That was the thing that made the president very, very furious.

And the last thing that I did and angered the president the most, was his brother's name was included in a letter that the central bank sent to all central banks around the world to freeze bank accounts of Kabul Bank's shareholders and owners, and that's why I learned that, and my life then was in imminent danger.

MONTAGNE: I want to ask you...

Mr. FITRAT: That's why I left Kabul.

MONTAGNE: I do want to say when you mentioned the president's brother, he's a very big-time businessman there, Mahmood Karzai, he has said that he has paid back the millions that he, as a shareholder, borrowed from the bank.

Mr. FITRAT: He has paid some of it, not all of it. And for that bank we appointed a forensic audit and the president also recently blocked it.

MONTAGNE: The government is now accusing you of fraud at Kabul Bank. That's part of the arrest warrant. One accusation is that you hid the corruption at Kabul Bank. Clearly youre denying that. But...

Mr. FITRAT: Absolutely.

MONTAGNE: But how did you miss seeing this fraud that was taking place over many years at the bank?

Mr. FITRAT: Well, we suspected fraud. Our central bank supervision team went, time and again, and unfortunately, the fraud was too sophisticated that we didnt find evidence. And it is usual Renee, that central banks are not well positioned to detect fraud at its early stages. That's why, once we suspected that in March 2010, I requested forensic audit from our international partner. The president intentionally politicized it. The president accused the United States that the United States was responsible for Kabul Bank crisis. But I'm insisting for uncovering truth, and the government is a crook. The government is responsible, not only for corruption in Kabul, but also corruption in other banks. And it will - you are going to hear it in future.

MONTAGNE: Abdul Qadeer Fitrat was the governor of Afghanistan's central bank until he resigned and fled the country earlier this month.

Thank you for joining us.

Mr. FITRAT: Thank you, Renee.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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