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US Sanctions 2 Former Afghan Republic Officials For Transnational Corruption

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US Sanctions 2 Former Afghan Republic Officials For Transnational Corruption

According to U.S. officials, the final speaker of the Afghan Republic’s parliament and his son were merrily robbing the country blind with various schemes tied particularly to fuel contracts.

US Sanctions 2 Former Afghan Republic Officials For Transnational Corruption
Credit: Depositphotos

On Monday, December 11, the United States announced the sanctioning of two former Afghan government officials for “their extensive roles in transnational corruption,” which allegedly misappropriated millions of dollars from government contracts intended to support Afghan security forces. 

The two former officials, Mir Rahman Rahmani and his son, Ajmal Rahmani, were nominated for sanctions by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. The two were duly sanctioned this week by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

Mir Rahman Rahmani served in the lower house of the Afghan parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, since 2010 and was elected speaker in June 2019. His son, Ajmal, was also a legislator. Reuters characterized him as “nicknamed ‘Armored Ajmal’ for his business selling bulletproof vehicles to the Kabul elite.”

“In nearly every step of their corruption scheme, the Rahmanis created opportunities to enrich themselves at the expense of others,” a U.S. Treasury press release stated, going on to outline a scheme involving fuel contracts for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). 

The release identifies four major parts of the corrupt scheme, starting with contract inflation in which the two men used their hidden control of various companies to rig bidding processes to eliminate actual competition and drive up the price of contracts awarded. Companies run by the Rahmanis also engaged in import tax fraud, twisting a system intended to allow limited amounts of goods to be imported tax free and thereby robbing the Afghan government of millions in tax revenue.

The Rahmanis then, the U.S. government alleges, “further bolstered their corrupt fuel profits by under-delivering on their companies’ fuel contracts.” They reportedly bribed d Afghan National Army (ANA) personnel to hide their non-delivery of fuel. Finally, the press release cites “parliamentary corruption,” noting that the younger Rahmani gave voters gifts and money and “paid $1.6 million to some members of the Afghan Independent Election Commission to inflate the results of the election by thousands of votes.” The older Rahmani, meanwhile, “paid millions of dollars to multiple Members of Parliament throughout the parliamentary speakership elections in 2018 to secure their votes for his bid for Speaker of Parliament.”

Special Inspector General John F. Sopko in a press release said, “Fuel is liquid gold in a war zone, and nowhere was this more evident than in Afghanistan, where it was subject to theft, diversion, and sale on the black market… No commodity was more valuable or consequential — every gallon stolen was one less gallon for American, NATO and Afghan forces, and only made the Taliban stronger. That’s why fuel theft was such a major focus of SIGAR investigations.”

In August 2020, a year before the dramatic collapse of the Afghan Republic government, Al Jazeera reported, as part of its Cyprus Paper investigation, that the older Rahmani had not only bought Cypriot citizenship for himself and his family but also acquired passports for St. Kitts and Nevis, via citizenship by investment (CBI) programs that offer fast tracked passports to foreign locales for the rich. 

In outlining the sanctioning of the Rahmanis, the U.S. Treasury Department noted, “Corrupt officials, like the Rahmanis, acquire and utilize foreign citizenships to conduct business around the world.” The Treasury Department designated a total of 44 entities alongside the two Rahmanis, including 21 Germany companies, eight Cypriot companies, six Emirati companies, two Afghan companies, two Austrian companies, one Dutch company, and one Bulgarian company allegedly controlled by or acting on behalf of Ajmal Rahmani, plus three more companies (two German and one Dutch) that were nested under some of the companies sanctioned. 

The sanctions effectively block any U.S. assets held by the Rahmanis and prevent U.S. entities from dealing with them. It’s not clear from current reporting where the Rahmanis are. They reportedly fled Kabul on the day it fell, flying to Islamabad.

As news of the sanctions broke, Taliban officials took the opportunity to argue that the United States had supported such officials for 20 years. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said, “This sanction is on two people who belong to the former administration of Kabul. It is linked to the U.S. In the past 20 years, the U.S. supported those people who were corrupt and were seizing the money of the people of Afghanistan and even the U.S. money through such actions.”

Arguably, corruption such as that outlined in the sanctions weakened the Afghan Republic irreparably, paving the way for its collapse and the Taliban’s return to power. Corruption was always a complaint during the 20 years the U.S. was involved militarily in Afghanistan, and something SIGAR – tasked with oversight of how U.S. taxpayer money was spent amid the war – shouted about constantly since its 2008 advent.

Some of the schemes mentioned in the Treasury Department’s announcement date to 2014. Why did it take nearly a decade for them to be exposed? And what may have turned out differently if the Rahmanis, and others like them, had been held to account long ago?