Kabul: More than USD 3 billion in cash has been flown out of Kabul in recent years amid fears that ill-gotten gains from corruption and narcotics are being stashed overseas, a report said on Monday.
The Wall Street Journal said the cash -- more than the Afghan government collects in tax and customs revenue annually -- is legally declared and packed into suitcases or cargo pallets on flights out of Kabul International Airport.
"A lot of this looks like our tax dollars being stolen. And opium, of course," a US official who is investigating corruption and Taliban financing told the newspaper.
Investigators believe some of the cash comes from Western-funded aid projects and US, European and NATO contracts to provide security and reconstruction work for coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Most of the funds passing through the airport are moved by hawalas, often-secretive private money transfer businesses popular in the Islamic world, the WSJ said citing its own review of Afghan customs records.
US dollars, Saudi riyals, Pakistani rupees, Norwegian kroner and even outdated Deutschmarks redeemable for euros are reportedly being flown out of Kabul.
"You get boxes loaded on the back of airplanes. You get guys, literally, bringing boxes of cash onto the plane," said a senior US official quoted by the WSJ.
Investigators believe the hawala customers include top officials and associates in President Hamid Karzai`s administration, including a brother of Karzai and Vice President Mohammed Fahim, the report said.
The newspaper carried a denial from the vice president`s businessman brother, AH Fahim.
"My brother? He doesn`t know anything about money," he said.
The President`s brother, Mahmood Karzai, told the Wall Street Journal that he was engaged in legitimate business and had never transferred large sums of cash out of the country.
Rampant corruption and the suspected involvement of top officials in the opium trade has fuelled anti-government sentiment and boosted support for the Taliban, undermining US efforts to bolster Karzai`s administration.
The declared cash is believed to be only a "small percentage" of the money leaving the airport and all of Afghanistan, General M Asif Jabar Khail, the chief customs officer at Kabul`s airport, was quoted as saying.
Asif said that last year, his customs officers found a "pile of millions of dollars", all undeclared, and tried to stop it leaving on a flight to Dubai.
But "there was lots of pressure from my higher ups", he told the newspaper.
"They told me there was an arrangement with the central bank and told me to let it go," Asif said, declining to name the senior officials who applied pressure.
The Washington Post reported separately that top officials in Karzai`s government had often blocked corruption investigations of well-connected Afghans, ordering names to be crossed off criminal files.
The senior officials also forced investigators to disregard evidence against executives of a major financial firm suspected of helping the nation`s elite move millions of dollars overseas, the Post report said.