At Kabul airport, exodus of U.S. aid goes on
U.S. agencies have “limited visibility over U.S. cash that enters the Afghan economy — leaving it vulnerable to fraud and diversion to the insurgency,” SIGAR said in a statement.
Kabul’s international airport has long been seen as a virtual black hole for foreign currency, the perfect venue through which travelers can smuggle out hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid that was intended for development projects.
More than a year after The Washington Post first disclosed American concerns about the airport, a report released Wednesday by the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction concludes that attempts to choke off the exodus of cash have been plagued by a hard-to-fathom set of obstacles.
The installation of currency-counting machines to better trace illicit funds at the airport — one of the centerpieces of a plan by the Department of Homeland Security — was delayed by seven months because U.S. and Afghan officials could not agree on where to put them.
Once the machines were installed, in April, Afghan customs officials began using them to count the cash but not to record serial numbers or to report financial data, necessary steps to determine whether the money being carried out of the country had been siphoned from aid flowing in.
It took eight months for U.S. and Afghan officials to agree on where to place signs at the airport informing passengers of the requirement to declare cash totalling more than $22,000. Americans officials were unable to get approval to place the signs at the entrance to the airport, so they are now located beyond the point where passengers pass through customs.
“As a result,” the report noted, “passengers are not informed of the requirement to declare the currency until it is too late.”
Meantime, VIPs are still allowed to leave the airport without having their cash scanned through the currency counters — one of the main points of concern for U.S. officials, who believe some businessmen are carrying bagfuls of illicit cash to the Persian Gulf and elsewhere
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