AT Monitoring Desk
KABUL: The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has called on the Afghan officials to evaluate and strengthen the control systems at air and land ports to prevent smuggling of cash, artifacts, gold and precious stones out of the country.
SIGAR, in its January 14 report, asked the Afghan government to evaluate the controls in place at airports to prevent cash, bearer-negotiable instruments (BNI) (such as cashier’s checks or bonds), precious and semiprecious stones, artifacts, and gold from being smuggled out of the country.
It also recommended determining whether customs officials are using the cash counting machines to help Afghan officials and their international partners track the serial numbers of cash leaving Afghanistan
Since the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001, cash smuggling out of Afghanistan’s international air and land ports has been a concern for the Afghan government, the United States, and the international community.
A 2011 Congressional Research Service study estimated that up to $4.5 billion was smuggled out of the country in a single year.
According to a 2015 study by Integrity Watch Afghanistan, 65 percent of all cash leaving Afghanistan was “illegally earned, transferred” or used.
A significant portion of that cash is tied to the opium trade, of which Afghanistan produced 84 percent of the world’s supply from 2015 to 2020.
Up to 85 percent of poppy production occurs in areas controlled or influenced by the Taliban, and the drug trade finances as much as half of the group’s activities in Afghanistan.
To track serial numbers of cash going in and out of Afghanistan’s busiest airport, the US government installed cash counting machines at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in 2011.
The following year, SIGAR reported that customs officials rarely used the machines, and did not record and send serial number data to the proper Afghan authorities.
SIGAR also reported that senior government officials and other individuals with political influence, designated by the president’s office as very important persons (VIP), were exempted from the customs process.
SIGAR found that customs officials are not regularly using the cash counting machines to track cash leaving Afghanistan; in fact, the machines were still not connected to the Internet, nearly a decade after the US government installed them.
SIGAR found that the security and screening procedures for non-VIP passengers have improved. Non-VIP passengers go through an extensive screening process including five checkpoints, managed by four different Afghan government entities and a private security company.
The government has posted its anti-money laundering law requirements at the entrance to the boarding area and outside the customs office in the Non-VIP terminal to inform passengers leaving Afghanistan that they must submit forms at the customs office to declare possession of more than $10,000 in cash, bearer-negotiable instruments, precious and semiprecious stones, and gold, and cannot take more than $20,000 in cash or bearer-negotiable instruments out of the country.
Customs officials provide passengers declaration forms to declare cash or bearer-negotiable instruments in excess of $10,000. VIP passengers are transported directly to the VIP terminal where their luggage is scanned, but there are no signs showing cash export limitations, no declaration forms provided to passengers, and no cash counting machines.
VVIP passengers arriving at the VIP terminal are not screened and can be transported directly to the plane for boarding.
As directed by the US Congress, SIGAR regularly evaluates the implementation of Afghanistan’s anticorruption strategy and suggests matters for consideration to the Afghan government.
To improve screening procedures and prevent cash smuggling out of Hamid Karzai International Airport, SIGAR suggests that the Afghan government:
1 Fully integrate cash counting machines with functioning internet capability– into the normal customs process both at the non-VIP and VIP terminals to better ensure that all declared and detected currency is counted, and serial numbers captured, for use by the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Center of Afghanistan (FinTRACA) and its international partners.
Strengthen controls at the VIP terminal by requiring all VIP and VVIP passengers to fill out customs declaration forms, and having airport staff count any cash declared and send serial numbers toFinTRACA.