A total of $935 million was stolen from the Kabul Bank, Afghanistan’s largest private bank, before it collapsed — with almost all of the money going to 19 people or corporations.
John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said Thursday that the bank “exemplifies” a key problem facing not only the Afghan government but U.S. aid efforts: corruption.
“Allowing corruption to continue unabated will likely jeopardize every gain we have made over the last 12 years,” Sopko said.
As the head of the government watchdog, Sopko and his SIGAR staff are tasked with finding potential waste, fraud, and fiscal abuse within the roughly $102 billion in relief and reconstruction funding allocated by the United States since fiscal 2002.
And though corruption continues and the U.S. military presence in the country after this year remains uncertain, Sopko said he expects U.S. and international aid won’t be cut off.
“It is clear from recent conversations that I’ve had with senior officials in our embassy as well as ISAF headquarters, that the United States and the international coalition do not plan to abandon the Afghan people,” Sopko said, while acknowledging that it isn’t his job to “pontificate on policy.”
And he did criticize the agencies he audits — including the Pentagon, State Department, and U.S. Agency for International Development — for lacking “a unified anti-corruption strategy in Afghanistan.”
A handful of reports — including, as Sopko noted, one commissioned by Gen. Joseph Dunford, the commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan — have pointed to the increasing challenges the country faces at the hands of persistent corruption.
And Sopko pointed to an initial U.S. lack of understanding of the scale of corruption in Afghanistan, the inability of the Afghanistan government to absorb financial assistance coupled with weak U.S. oversight, and the lack of a coordinated anticorruption strategy as ways the United States has potentially hindered its own efforts.
Sopko has, at times, been a controversial figure, with military officials accusing SIGAR of missing the mark and State and USAID officials accusing the media — writing stories largely based off SIGAR’s findings — of painting a negative, though accurate, picture of progress in Afghanistan.
And though Sopko said that he’s the “ultimate optimist” about the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, he defended SIGAR’s many reports, saying: “It’s not my job to be a cheerleader.”¦ My job is to ferret out, identify, and report on problems.”
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As the Russia investigation heats up, "the role of Marc E. Kasowitz, the president’s longtime New York lawyer, will be significantly reduced. Mr. Trump liked Mr. Kasowitz’s blunt, aggressive style, but he was not a natural fit in the delicate, politically charged criminal investigation. The veteran Washington defense lawyer John Dowd will take the lead in representing Mr. Trump for the Russia inquiry."
President Trump's attorneys are "actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work." They plan to argued that Mueller is going outside the scope of his investigation, in inquiring into Trump's finances. They're also playing small ball, highlighting "donations to Democrats by some of" Mueller's team, and "an allegation that Mueller and Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia had a dispute over membership fees when Mueller resigned as a member in 2011." Trump is said to be incensed that Mueller may see his tax returns, and has been asking about his power to pardon his family members.
In addition to ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Robert Mueller's team is also "examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe. FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said. The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort."
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team is "is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates", including "Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008."
"A Senate bill to gut Obamacare would increase the number of uninsured people by 32 million and double premiums on Obamacare's exchanges by 2026, according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The analysis is of a bill that passed Congress in 2015 that would repeal Obamacare's taxes and some of the mandates. Republicans intend to leave Obamacare in place for two years while a replacement is crafted and implemented."