Watchdog: Kabul airport still not counting cash

Authorities at Kabul International Airport (KBL) are not properly counting and recording billions of dollars in bulk cash flowing out of the country through customs offices, a new U.S. report states.

Afghanistan is a cash economy, with more than $11 billion in currency leaving the country in 2011. The United States helped airport authorities acquire bulk counting machines, and trained officials on procedures to track the funds as part of an anti-corruption effort.  

But the government’s independent watchdog, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko, said on Tuesday that more than one year since the last inspection, the counting machines (pictured above) were not connected to the Internet, storing serial numbers, or building databases as required for proper oversight.

“These machines, which can record and report serial numbers of currency, are regarded as important anti-money laundering tools,” said Phil LaVelle, spokesman for the SIGAR office, which is located in Virginia.

Sopko also raised concerns about a new dignitary lounge, which allows high-ranking officials to pass through the airport, with onle a declaration of their cash holdings -- not counting or tracking them -- and an Afghan decree raising the limit on cash holdings that needed to be declared from $10,000 to $20,000.

“This change,” Sopko argued, U.S. officials believe, “is likely to increase the risk of illicit bulk cash movement and further weaken controls for monitoring money movements at KBL because it makes it easier for individuals to engage in a practice called ‘structuring,’ in which transactions such as money transfers or drug purchases are conducted repeatedly in smallamounts to avoid suspicion.”

For good measure, the SIGAR also complained the cash-counting machines were not in secure locations, and security cameras meant to watch for bulk cash flow were installed in passenger baggage areas, not in VIP and cargo areas.