Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Dostum Denies Hoarding Customs Cash

Finance minister plans to go to northern Afghanistan to investigate why billions of afghanis worth of tax proceeds have not been sent to Kabul.
By Sultan Mohammad

Afghan warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum has dismissed suspicions that he plundered huge sums of customs revenue.

The northern customs posts are typically big money earners for the authorities. Mohammad Rahim, director of the customs department in Balkh province, told IWPR that more than 25 billion afghanis – over seven hundred thousand US dollars - were collected at just one river port near the Uzbek border since last September. But the government claims it hasn't received any payment since July.

Senior figures are blaming Dostum, the powerful warlord who controls a large area in the north of the country, for the loss of revenue from the northern crossings, where much-needed goods from Russia, China and Europe are brought into Afghanistan.

Dostum's spokesperson Faizullah Zaki denied that the general and his officials were to blame for the shortfall. He suggested that the parlous state of the country's financial systems meant that they were finding it hard to send customs revenue to Kabul and vice versa. He added that they had no other option but to spend some of the money on food for the city's students.

'It is very difficult to cope at present and that is why it was ordered that these costs should be recovered from the government's income,' he said.

But customs officials at Hayratan, a strategic port just 30 km from the Uzbek border town of Termiz, give a conflicting account of what happens to the money.

'This department has received customs duties for the past half century. Now, gunmen go there and take them by force, said Rahim, one of the official. 'And nothing can happen in Hayratan without Dostum's permission.

'I am the director of customs but I don't know who collects the money and where it has gone in these past few weeks. The collection is our responsibility, but for the last month, the cash has been taken by some irresponsible people who make trouble.'

'The [central government] finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai is asking what authorisation these people are using to collect custom duties in Hayratan. I am 100 per cent in favour of sending the money to Kabul, but it isn't getting there, and I don't know who is taking that money.'

Mohammad Atta, general manager of Da Afghanistan Bank (technically still the country's central bank) in Takhar province, alleged that leaders of Dostum's Junbish-e-Islami party are responsible. 'We haven't received the money from Hayratan for around 20 days because they are keeping it there.'

Zaki claims that Dostum and President Karzai have been in talks regarding the problems facing those in the north of the country, and that 300 million afghanis have been sent to Kabul as a 'goodwill gesture'.

But Atta told IWPR that he didn't 'know about the money or whether it has been given to the capital or not'.

The transitional administration's finance minister, Ahmadzai, admits there are problems in Balkh. 'I have decided to go to the northern provinces to have a closer look myself,' he said.

Sultan Mohammad is a pseudonym for a freelance journalist based in Kabul.