Afghan envoy questions central banker resignation

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 29, 2011 2:54 PM
Afghan envoy questions central banker resignation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai's envoy to Washington on Wednesday cast doubt about the motives of the man who pointed a finger at the Afghan government when he stepped down suddenly this week as head of the country's central bank.

Ambassador Eklil Hakimi spoke two days after Adbul Qadir Fitrat, who was governor of Afghanistan's central bank, told Reuters during a visit to Washington that he would resign after receiving threats on his life related to a spiraling bank scandal.

"This is something quite surprising to us," Hakimi said in an interview with Reuters, brushing aside Fitrat's suggestions that authorities had undermined his efforts to get to the bottom of the scandal at Afghanistan's largest private lender, Kabulbank.

Western officials are increasingly worried by the crisis at Kabulbank, where corruption, bad loans and mismanagement have cost the well-connected lender hundreds of millions of dollars.

Kabulbank doled out nearly half a billion dollars in unsecured, undocumented loans to Kabul's elite, including ministers, relatives of Karzai and a vice president, and a powerful former warlord, anti-corruption officials say.

The scandal raises questions about the government's willingness to go after corruption and threatens future support from the International Monetary Fund.

Karzai's government responded angrily to Fitrat's resignation and suggested he himself might be implicated in the banking irregularities. Waheed Omer, Karzai's chief spokesman, said Fitrat was on a list of people the attorney general's office planned to prosecute over the scandal.

Hakimi suggested that steps to investigate lax oversight from the central bank may have been behind Fitrat's decision.

"If he interprets that when (Afghanistan's) attorney general's office starts investigating the central bank, why weren't they competent enough to handle this case in a professional manner -- if he is interpreting this as a threat, I'm not going to buy this," he said.

Kabul is pursuing talks with world donors after a breakdown in discussions with the IMF left millions of dollars in limbo, the country's finance minister said on Tuesday.

Hakimi also said that threats against public figures were a matter of course in Afghanistan, where violence has surged despite the intensified fight against the Taliban across much of the country.

"In Afghanistan, and especially in Kabul, you have to have that dedication and devotion," Hakimi said.

"What I'm trying to say is that somebody who has commitment to serve his own country, making an excuse that because of the threatening of my life I am leaving -- at least I'm not going to do that."

(Reporting by Missy Ryan; editing by Vicki Allen)