Ashraf Ghani: Don't be silly. Of course I wouldn't steal millions of dollars while fleeing my country

(AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)

One of the most frustrating parts of the entire Afghanistan troop withdrawal saga was the story of how President Ashraf Ghani fled his country like a thief in the night as the Taliban approached, allegedly packing several cars and a helicopter with what was described as “a cartoonish quantity of cash” as he went. That story came to us via the Russian embassy in Afghanistan, so assign whatever credibility to it that you will, but the tale quickly picked up traction. After Ghani disappeared, first to Uzbekistan and then on to the United Arab Emirates, nobody heard from him for quite a while. But now he’s come forward to clear his good name and that of his family. So did he really take more than 100 million dollars in cash with him on his way out the door? Perish the thought. He would never do such a thing so we’ve had the story all wrong. (Yahoo News)

Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani apologized for failing to preserve Afghanistan’s constitutional system of government in a new statement that disputes reports that he fled the advancing Taliban in a helicopter laden with millions of dollars.

“Now is not the time for a long assessment of the events leading up to my departure — I will address them in detail in the near future,” Ghani wrote in a statement released via Twitter. “But I must now address baseless allegations that as I left Kabul I took with millions of dollars belonging to the Afghan people. These charges are completely and categorically false.”

Ghani’s departure drew condemnation from other prominent Afghan government officials, as Taliban fighters entered the capital city with ease. That controversy cemented his reputation as a corrupt cause of the Afghan central government’s impotence to withstand the Taliban, in part due to Russian government claims that he fled with a cartoonish quantity of cash.

So the charges are “completely and categorically false” according to Ghani himself. Fair enough, I suppose. (At least for now.) The situation in Kabul was so chaotic and the looting and rioting so prevalent that it will take time to sort out what all went missing and where everything went, assuming that’s ever even possible. But one thing to note here is that Ghani isn’t denying that he took a lot of cash with him. He’s just saying that it wasn’t the government’s money.

“My wife and I have been scrupulous in our personal finances. I have publicly declared all of my assets,” he wrote. “My wife’s family inheritance has also been disclosed and remains listed in her home country of Lebanon. I welcome an official audit or financial investigation under UN auspices or any other appropriate independent body to prove the veracity of my statements here.”

There are some serious potential holes in this explanation, but let’s start with the most obvious one. Let’s just say that Ashraf Ghani and his wife have been fabulously successful in the business world. (That’s known to be true, at least to a certain extent.) And this success somehow translated over the last ten years to his amassing tens of millions of dollars in a country where most people don’t have access to enough cash to buy a loaf of bread. What would a person in Ghani’s position do with that kind of money? Deposit it in a bank? Of course not. He’d stuff it all under his mattress, right?

As to offering to submit to an official audit by the UN or another “appropriate independent body,” that would be encouraging were it not for one unfortunate reality. As I already mentioned above, there probably isn’t much left to audit at his old palace in Kabul. It’s already been thoroughly looted, along with everything else. What records there might have been in Kabul will likely have gone up in flames by now. And perhaps it’s only by coincidence that Ghani landed in the UAE, one of the easiest places to make massive amounts of cash disappear off the books to be found outside of Qatar. (Provided you’re willing to grease the right palms, of course.)

I just don’t know what to make of this, honestly. It doesn’t sound like there is enough evidence at this point to declare Ghani guilty of these accusations. But at the same time, it would be an awfully curious story for the Russian embassy to fabricate, wouldn’t it? And it’s not as if the government we helped establish in Kabul had a sterling reputation for honesty and a lack of corruption for the past decade. Ghani and his cronies have been accused of embezzling foreign aid money for years, going back to at least 2015. Heck, the government in Kabul was even accused of pocketing the COVID relief funds sent to them by the EU and the World Bank. Corruption in that government has traditionally been described as being endemic.

I suppose the jury is still out. But for what it’s worth, this story sounds a bit suspicious, to say the least. Of course, Ghani’s government has entirely vanished, along with all of the investments we made into the region along with our allies. If the full story is ever known, it likely won’t be any time soon.