Afghans sit on basic tools to fight money laundering

Sascha Burkard/

As U.S. troops prepare to vacate war-torn Afghanistan, security specialists’ efforts to track cash movements out of Kabul International Airport have stalled, according to a report released Tuesday.

John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said bulk currency-counting machines that the State and Homeland Security departments have placed at the airport are not being used and are not linked to the Internet as planned.

“The persistent delays in instituting basic anti-money laundering procedures by [the Afghanistan government at Kabul’s airport] are deeply troubling,” the SIGAR said in a Dec. 11 report addressed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham. “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.”

An estimated $4.5 billion was inappropriately taken from Afghanistan’s cash-based economy in 2011, according to the Congressional Research Service. A civilian-military interagency working group had installed digital machines that record and transmit currency serial numbers via the online Financial Transactions and Records Analysis Center of Afghanistan. But travelers designated as “very important persons” and “very very important persons,” the report found, have been permitted to bypass the machines.

Visiting Kabul in September through November to follow-up on a 2011 report, auditors found that the two bulk currency counters were located in an area not easily accessible to Afghan customs and FinTRACA officials in the international terminal. DHS officials said efforts have “stalled” because Afghans are not comfortable with the procedures and require additional training. “One DHS official,” the report said, “told us that Afghan customs at [the airport] were afraid that they would experience negative repercussions from [the government] if progress in instituting controls at the airport was made.”

Responding to a draft of the report, the U.S. embassy said it has completed 26 of 33 tasks called for in the working group’s Bulk Cash Action Plan and will press the issue with the Afghan government.

(Image via Sascha Burkard/

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