The Afghan officials’ families with luxury pads in Dubai
This story has been developed by Jessica Purkiss and published with partnership by Etilaat Roz and Daily Beast.
Leaked documents have unmasked senior Afghan officials and their families as recent owners of luxury offshore property in Dubai, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism can reveal.
Included in the documents seen by the
Bureau are relatives of two former presidents, a presidential candidate whose
brother was reported to have flown into the UAE with more than 50 million USD in
cash, and a senior intelligence official whose father was implicated in
involvement with the transfer of large sums of money from Afghanistan.
Holding property overseas is not
illegal and does not in itself imply any wrongdoing. But concerns have been
mounting generally about alleged corruption among some senior Afghan officials.
Few, if any, of the properties appear to have been declared on official
registers, as is required by Afghanistan’s often ignored and broadly
ineffective anti-corruption rules.
The evidence of luxury property
ownership in Dubai raises concerns that merit further investigation, according
to a leading anti-corruption charity.
too easy for officials to buy property in Dubai with anonymity,” said Maira Matini, from Transparency
International. “There’s no information available that
would help detect wrongdoing. There needs to be more transparency.
doesn’t mean that those officials are corrupt. However, it does raise red flags
and needs to be investigated by the authorities.”
Over the past twenty years, Afghanistan
has been rocked by numerous corruption scandals, some of which have gone to the
very top. From wartime contracts to unchecked foreign aid and CIA suitcases
full of cash funnelled to favoured politicians and warlords, corruption has
proved a stubborn problem to solve. The US special inspector general for
Afghanistan reconstruction has said: “While
Afghanistan undoubtedly had a corruption problem prior to 2001, US and
coalition spending acted as gasoline thrown on an already burning fire.”
Despite numerous initiatives, critics
have lambasted government programmes to tackle corruption, with one calling
The reputation of the Afghan government
has ramifications for the country as a whole. Last month the US announced it
would cut 160 million USD in aid, accusing Afghanistan of failing to fight
corruption – only a week before the country’s presidential elections began. It
is rare for Washington to withhold direct funding from Kabul, which relies
heavily on its support.
The Bureau’s findings are based on a
leak of property data in Dubai, first obtained by the US non-profit C4ADS and
shared with the Bureau by Finance Uncovered and OCCRP. The data mostly
represents property ownership, but also leasing. The Bureau then
cross-referenced this data against official and public records to corroborate
The results shed light on assets held
in the usually secretive emirate. The Bureau found numerous Afghan officials
and relatives have recently owned property in Dubai, including members of
prominent political families that have been linked to some of Afghanistan’s
biggest corruption scandals.
One leading Afghan found to have owned
property in Dubai is Ahmad Wali Massoud, who is currently running for
president. A leaked diplomatic cable alleged that in October 2009, his brother
Ahmad Zia Massoud, then the vice-president of Afghanistan, flew into the UAE
with 52 million USD in cash.
Also in the records
was Adib Ahmad Fahim, a senior intelligence official. His late father, General
Mohammed Qasim Fahim, another former vice-president, was identified as the part
owner of Pamir Airways in a US diplomatic cable. The airline was believed to
have ferried money to Dubai hidden in aeroplane food trays. Fahim’s uncle
Haseen was also a major shareholder in Kabul bank, which was at the centre of a
massive scandal over millions of dollars allegedly given out in suspect insider
loans before it collapsed in 2010.
Ghulam Farooq Wardak, the state
minister for parliamentary affairs, appears in the records with his wife. They
recently owned two properties in exclusive areas of Dubai, including one on
Wardak was previously Afghanistan’s
education minister, and his successor in the post raised concerns over possible
corruption at the ministry. An
investigation ordered by President Ashraf Ghani is said to have found evidence
of embezzlement within the ministry and inaccurate data records on the number
of schools that diverted money from donors.
Two members of
Afghanistan’s parliament appear in the list. Saleh Mohammad Lala Gul and Feda
Mohammad Ulfat, who are father and
son, own a villa in the springs and another in the Jumeirah Park area. Both are
flashy residences with features such as manmade lakes and swimming pools.
Close relatives of two former
presidents also appear in the list. One is Fatima Rabbani, whose late father,
Burhanuddin Rabbani, led Afghanistan in the late 1990s. Her brother was, until
this week, a foreign affairs minister. She runs various businesses in Dubai,
including an upmarket restaurant and a business selling luxury products with
the niece of another person in the records, former Afghan ambassador to Jordan,
The other is Mahmood Karzai, the
brother of the former president Hamid Karzai. He was also a shareholder of
Kabul bank and, alongside Fahim’s uncle, there have been concerns that he
sought to use his closeness to the very top of Afghanistan’s leadership to
assist in protecting the bank from greater scrutiny.
In an email, Mahmood Karzai confirmed
ownership of a property in Dubai and said he had lived in the country since
2007. He denied any wrongdoing or corruption, and said he had attempted to sue
the private investigation firm Kroll for a report it wrote alleging misconduct
on his part in Afghanistan.
None of the other people named in the
records responded to multiple requests for comment in English, Dari or Pashto.
Afghan law appears to require people in
positions of authority – known as “politically exposed persons” – to publicly
declare their assets and source of funds, as well as those of their close
relatives. Few if any of the individuals named in the leaked Dubai documents
appear to have declared such assets – but experts say the laws are not fit for
purpose, and contain many loopholes that could allow someone to not disclose an
asset without breaching the rules.
Sayed Ikram Afzali,
of anti-corruption organisation Integrity Watch Afghanistan, said the
disclosure system had proved useless.
“The asset forms are
largely incomplete, the data published is inconsistent and not verified, and
even at times contradictory. You could say it’s a useless system,” he said.
“It’s an ineffective system and it’s not meant to be effective. It’s a system
the government is following to keep international donors happy.
“I doubt that the
Afghan government means to achieve anything through this process, aside from
ticking a box to keep the international community happy.”
Anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan
have a chequered history. President Karzai attempted to clamp down on
corruption, partly in efforts to please international partners, setting up an anti-corruption
office in 2008 whose duties included registering the assets of public
officials. The office was quickly mired in
controversy – after damning criticism of its first attempts, Karzai appointed a
new head, choosing an official who had been previously accused of election
That office was eventually shut down,
and there have been successive attempts to get Afghan officials to register
their assets. Stronger legislation was introduced in 2017, but years on, asset
registration for officials is seen as a failure.
The body in charge of the current
register has been placed under the office of the president, raising concerns
from anti-corruption activists. Questions have been raised over its
independence: its latest director, Naheed Esar, has recently been appointed the
new deputy foreign minister.
Sarah Chayes, an anti-corruption expert
who has advised the US military in Afghanistan, said the Afghanistan needed to
work on tackling corruption and rebuilding trust in its ruling class in a root
and branch way.
“Corruption in Afghanistan is systemic.
It is perpetrated by networks,” she said.
“For years I heard comments from my
neighbours like: ‘The Taliban shakes us down at night, and the government
shakes us down in the daytime’.” Chayes added: “The difference is, the
government is supposed to be upholding the law, but is violating it.”