WASHINGTON -- In a stunning development that is bound to shake both the government in Kabul and the international community’s efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, the head of that country's central bank said he had fled, citing "credible information" about a threat to his life.
Speaking to RFE/RL correspondent Christian Caryl from a hotel on the outskirts of Washington, Abdul Qadir Fitrat said he resigned from his job as Da Afghanistan Bank governor just hours earlier because government officials have been blocking his efforts to resolve the widening scandal around a leading commercial bank that has implicated the country's political establishment.
Fitrat said his decision to leave Afghanistan was motivated by failure to achieve prosecution for the culprits behind the scandal surrounding Kabul Bank, a commercial lender that stands accused of squandering close to $1 billion worth of shareholder funds.
The bank is said to have issued fraudulent loans to well-connected customers -- many of them allegedly closely tied to the administration of President Hamid Karzai. Officials from the U.S. and international financial agencies have been struggling for months to get the government in Kabul to contain the widening fallout from the crisis surrounding the bank, which some say threatens the stability of the fragile Afghan financial system.
Waheed Omer, chief spokesman for the Karzai government, told Reuters news agency on July 27 that Fitrat had left the country because his own name was on a list of officials threatened with prosecution over the scandal: "This is not a resignation, this is treason to the Afghan people and a very irresponsible act."
In a response to those comments, Fitrat said he resigned from his post precisely because the president and the general prosecutor failed to respond for more than a year to requests from the central bank to prosecute those responsible. Fitrat said he had not yet contacted U.S. officials, and that he had no need to apply for asylum, since he already had residency in the United States.
RFE/RL: Why did you choose this moment to resign? Why now?
Abdul Qadir Fitrat: The reason I decided now [is] because I tried very hard to do the job that I was supposed to do but unfortunately I was not able to do. One of those jobs was to prosecute those people who were involved in Kabul Bank’s crisis. And I, the IMF, the World Bank and the international community together, we insisted [on a] transparent and open mechanism to try and prosecute these individuals, so that it becomes a lesson for would-be violators of the law in the future. I discussed it in many official meetings. I sent written requests, or a couple of written requests. To date there is no information of any credible plan to prosecute these individuals. We requested a special prosecution team and a special tribunal to investigate and prosecute those who were involved in fraudulent activities in Kabul Bank and defaulted tens of millions of dollars from that bank. But unfortunately we saw no reaction by the government.
RFE/RL: All of that started in 2010. So what has happened lately?
Fitrat: Recently the forensic audit of one of the banks was also blocked and these authorities even tried hard to block the forensic audit, to block it completely. But at the same time, we tried to remove some suspected owners and shareholders of some commercial banks from the position of trust. The government, high political authorities of Afghanistan also provided them with support, and now there is a standoff between the central bank authority and those individuals. These factors severely undermined the independence and the regulatory and supervisory authority of the central bank and for me it is no longer an option to continue as a figurehead and not to be able to do any effective thing. I want a financial sector free of corruption, free of government involvement, and free of political interference, and that’s not unfortunately happening at the moment.
RFE/RL: But surely that was not a reason to leave the country?
Fitrat: Plus, in recent weeks, after I spoke to the parliament of Afghanistan, which was televised to the nation and around the world on April 27th or 28th, my life became completely in danger. And recently, I received credible information that there were conspiracies against my life. That's why I, instead of resigning in Afghanistan, came to the United States and resigned today, a couple of hours ago, from my position as governor of the central bank of Afghanistan. And I do so, because I want a future central bank to be free of interference, to be an independent entity and to do the right thing, exactly in accordance with the laws of Afghanistan.
RFE/RL: Can you give any information about this credible information about the threat to your life?
Fitrat: Well, I cannot be specific, but there were credible information from credible sources that my life was completely in danger. And at the same time, on the day that I was speaking to the parliament, members of parliament also raised their concern about my future safety. I cannot be more specific than that. So there were dangers and the dangers were imminent.
RFE/RL: You’ve heard the statement about you by Karzai’s spokesman: “This is not a resignation; this is treason to the Afghan people.” What’s your response to that?
Fitrat: Well, they also alleged that my name was on the prosecution list. You may ask the IMF, you may ask the World Bank, you may ask the international community, you may ask also the central bank authority, there was no credible plan to prosecute anybody. We insisted and we sent request after request to prosecute those who were involved in fraudulent activities in Kabul Bank and defaulted tens of millions of dollars of public deposits. The government was not serious to prosecute anybody. How come is it that, out of nowhere, all of a sudden my name was on top of the prosecution list? There is no prosecution list. You may ask the international community in Kabul, was there any prosecution list until yesterday?
RFE/RL: In other words, not only do you not believe that you are on the prosecution list, but the whole reason you resigned in the first place is because you couldn’t get them to prosecute anyone seriously.
Fitrat:: Exactly, exactly. This was not only my intention; this was the entire international community’s intention to prosecute those people, including the most powerful ones. And [...] in the last 10 months our requests went nowhere. And all of them remained unanswered. We received no assistance from the prosecutor general’s or attorney general’s office. We requested, even we requested to put them in the exit control as nobody did it. And I, out of disappointment, I took this decision, because there is a hopeless situation there.
RFE/RL: Are you saying the Karzai government is in league with these criminal elements that deserve prosecution in respect with the Kabul Bank scandal?
Fitrat: Well, I do not specifically mention any names, but I say the entire establishment, the high political authorities of Afghanistan, is not serious to prosecute anybody. They may be intending to prosecute me and the honest investigators of the central bank. They are intending to prosecute our international advisors, who just provided training. And they are not intending to prosecute anybody, those who took loans, tens of millions of dollars under fictitious names, those who took loans without any legal processes. They will go unpunished. They will only try to punish me and people like me, who wanted a transparent prosecution. All I want is fairness, transparency, responsibility and accountability, which unfortunately doesn’t exist anymore at the moment and it is unfortunately a very scarce commodity in Afghanistan under the current conditions.
RFE/RL: So what does this say about Afghanistan today?
Fitar: My story will tell the international community that I want them to engage. I do not want them to abandon Afghanistan despite the wrong direction that the leadership of our country has chosen. I want the international community, particularly the United States and Europe and NATO, to remain engaged and not to leave the people of Afghanistan to those who took Afghan people victim before 9/11. I do not want 9/11 to be repeated there and I do not want Afghanistan to be a safe haven for terrorist organizations again. I think that the international community is doing a great job. Since their engagement in 2002 the lives of the people of Afghanistan have improved. And human rights have been to some extent observed although there are many violations still there. The international communities together have achieved a lot although they do not have a credible partner and a reliable partner. But I want to urge them to stay engaged.