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SIGAR urges tighter VIP control to stop cash smuggling through airport

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(Last Updated On: January 21, 2021)

Despite efforts by the Afghan government to reduce the flow of cash out of the country’s busiest international airport, significant control weaknesses continue to exist at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported Thursday.

Cash counting machines, which were funded by the US government, are not being used for the purposes intended and the only cash counting machine confirmed to be working is in the arrival entrance, instead of the departure area where strict cash controls are most needed to help prevent cash smuggling, SIGAR reported.

In addition, the machines lack connectivity to the Internet, which in turn prevents Afghan investigative authorities from tracking currency suspected of being laundered.

“The absence of fully functional and strategically positioned cash counting machines, and declaration forms in the VIP section along with the limited screening of VIP passengers – who are most likely to have large amounts of cash – severely limits the Afghan government’s ability to fully implement its anti-money laundering laws at the airport,” John F. Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction stated in the report.

To improve screening procedures at Hamid Karzai International Airport, SIGAR suggested the Afghan government take the following two actions:

1. Fully integrate cash counting machines with functioning Internet capability into the normal customs process both at the non-VIP and VIP terminals to better ensure that all declared and detected currency is counted, and serial numbers captured, for use by FinTRACA and its international partners.
2. Strengthen controls at the VIP terminal by requiring all VIP and VVIP passengers to fill out customs declaration forms, and have airport staff count any cash declared and send serial numbers to FinTRACA.

Sopko stated: “We provided a draft copy of this report to the [US] Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of State (DOS) for comments on December 21, 2020, and the Afghan government for comments on December 22, 2020.

“DHS provided technical comments for incorporation in the report on January 8, 2021, which we
incorporated as appropriate. The Department of State informed SIGAR on January 8, 2021 that it does not have any technical comments.

“As of the publication of this report, the Afghan government did not provide any comment on the report nor on the matters for its consideration,” Sopko stated.

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Private sector calls for implementation of economic projects

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(Last Updated On: September 17, 2021)

Afghanistan’s private sector on Thursday called on the new government to implement large, regional projects saying this will create job opportunities, which will in turn reduce poverty and increase government revenue.

“There are many opportunities in the country. TAPI, CASA-1000, Railways, Belt and Road, [these] projects should be implemented; it is very important for the country. It is beneficial for Afghanistan. Taliban (Islamic Emirate) should take it seriously,” said Khan Jan Alokozay, a member of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Investment.

Some members of the country’s craftsmen association said the Islamic Emirate should start with projects that connect Central Asia to South Asia, in order to push Afghanistan’s economy.

“Our country has the capacity to implement large projects between Central Asia and South Asia. We call on Taliban (Islamic Emirate) to address the projects, said Abdul Jabar Safi, head of the association.

The Islamic Emirate meanwhile has stated that they are focusing on projects and that work on these will start soon.

Economic analysts, on the other hand, have stated that work on such projects should be accelerated.

“Attention should be paid to these projects, in order to move to a stable economy. Afghanistan needs such projects now,” said Abdul Wasi, an economic analyst.

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Central bank seizes over $12 million from former govt officials

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(Last Updated On: September 16, 2021)

Afghanistan’s central bank said it had seized nearly $12.4 million in cash and gold from former high-ranking government officials, including former vice president Amrullah Saleh.

In a statement, the central bank said the money and gold had been kept in the houses of officials, although it did not yet know for what purpose.

Saleh’s whereabouts meanwhile are unknown.

In a separate statement, the bank urged Afghans to use the country’s local Afghani currency.

This comes amid growing concerns that the country’s banks and firms are running short of money, especially dollars, which are widely used.

In a sign that the Islamic Emirate are looking to recoup assets belonging to former government officials, the central bank issued a circular to local banks last week asking them to freeze the accounts of politically exposed individuals linked to the previous government.

But on Wednesday, reports emerged that Afghanistan’s banks are running out of dollars, and may have to close their doors to customers unless the government releases funds soon.

Three people with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters that the cash squeeze threatens to upend the country’s already battered economy, largely dependent on hundreds of millions of dollars shipped by the United States to the central bank in Kabul that make their way to Afghans through banks.

Although the cash crunch has lasted weeks, the country’s banks have in recent days repeatedly underlined their concerns to the new government and central bank, two of the people said.

Banks have already pared back services and imposed weekly $200 payout limits, with long queues outside branches as people try to get hold of dollars.

But in a statement on its website on Wednesday, the central bank’s acting governor said banks were stable.

“The banks are completely secure,” he said, adding that commercial banks usually kept 10% of their capital as cash and that those in Afghanistan, on average, held 50% as cash.

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Efforts underway to reopen Torkham and Spin Boldak border crossings

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(Last Updated On: September 15, 2021)

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s Acting Foreign Minister Mawlavi Amir Khan Mottaqi met with Pakistani Ambassador to Kabul Mansoor Ahmad Khan on Tuesday to discuss challenges at the country’s border crossings.

Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman for the Islamic Emirate’s political office in Doha, said the meeting focused on the people’s challenges at the Torkham and Spin Boldak crossings.

According to Shaheen, Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan has assured the Islamic Emirate that the crossings will soon be reopened to Afghans and all challenges will be resolved.

Pakistan closed the Torkham crossing to Afghan travelers, and traffic continued intermittently through Spin Boldak after the Islamic Emirate’s takeover of Afghanistan last month.

Thousands of Afghans are however currently waiting to cross into Pakistan at these crossings.

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