Decision on Ferozi’s release, investment draws sharp criticism
KABUL (Pajhwok): Civil society activists and social media users on Thursday sharply reacted to the release of Kabul Bank defaulter Khalilullah Ferozi and the signing of a contract for his township scheme. However, a presidential advisor explained the bank’s ex-chief executive had been freed for a few hours.
Ferozi, who was convicted last year in the massive banking fraud scandal, on Wednesday launched work on an ambitious township project -- involving an initial investment of $98 million -- in the heart of the nation’s capital.
Convicted on charges of defrauding the Kabul Bank of nearly a billion dollars, he was sentenced to 10 years in jail in December 2014. One of the leading Afghan tycoons, Ferozi is said to be serving his jail term at night under a deal with the government.
Facebook users hit out at the release of Ferozi and permission for his participation in the launching ceremony for the township project. Most of them queried the government’s commitment to combating endemic corruption in the government.
“The unity government has initiated a whole new business allowing lawbreakers to be treated as respected citizens,” remarked one social media activist Ahmad Riaz, who saw no justification for the release a convict who should be serving his jail term.
Another user of Facebook, Waheed Farmuli, alleged the people who have stole tens of militants of dollars have been allowed to go scot-free and construct a town costing $900 million. It is a crying shame for the unity government and a mockery of it vows to banish graft, he observed.
“A legal advisor -- appointed by the president to probe the Kabul Bank scandal -- suggested the arrest of big cheats, Khalil Ferozi and his accomplices. But the thief is released at night to participate in the opening of a new town,” noted Inayatullah Kakar.
Saeedullah Taraki, wrote on Facebook wall the release of Ferozi has set off a heated debate on social media. Even if it a political move, it represents a slap in the face for many. “A political justification has to be found; otherwise detractors will raise doubts even about the positive achievements of the past.”
He went on to lampoon President Ghani’s anti-corruption promises. “If you are unable to translate your vows into concrete actions, why did you promise to resolve the Kabul Bank conundrum in a month?” he asked the president.
In what looks a rather cryptic reaction, Faiz Mohammad Kakar said in his post: “This means running with the hare and hunting with the hound! Instead of stopping thieves in their tracts, the national unity administration is motivating them to plunder more national wealth.”
Najibullah Khan questioned who were behind the release of Ferozi -- Karzai, Abdullah or Ghani? He took a dig at the president for harping on counter-corruption themes, but failing to walk the talk.
In the current dispensation, an honorable person is one who is corrupt and is still respected, commented Fazal Haq Minawal.
Political analyst and member of Eastern Civil Movement Mirwais Omarkhel said: “Right from the word go, we were convinced that mighty mafia and warlords were behind the Kabul Bank crisis. I don’t think the government would succeed in taking them to task.”
All Kabul Bank stakeholders are close relatives of high-ranking officials with links to armed groups and different ethnic organiations, he told Pajhwok Afghan News.
Omarkhel cautioned the government against showing leniency to mafia groups that have embezzled millions of dollars. Justice demanded all convicts should have been treated equally. If it ignored the plunder of millions of dollars belonging to the people, the government would lose public confidence and the principle of justice would be trampled on.
But Abdul Ali Mohammadi, the president’s legal advisor, tended to defend Ferozi’s release. He insisted the relief was for a few hours and was in accordance with the law. He saw nothing wrong with the presence of Ferozi at the contract-signing ceremony for the housing project.
Instead he lashed out at some media outlets for blowing the issue out of proportion and putting their own spin on it. The official claimed clarifying the presence of Ferozi at yesterday’s ceremony, but some media outlets released objectionable reports in violation of journalistic principles.
The presidential advisor said the court judgment in the Kabul Bank case equally applied to all convicts. In compliance with court order, he continued, a procedure had been evolved to recover loans from all defaulters over a period of seven year.
The advisor maintained Haseen Fahim and Ferozi had furnished repayment guarantees while Mahmood Karzai had already returned his loan. Mohammadi said all Kabul Bank defaulters had been informed to abide by the court order and those failing to pay back their loans would be prosecuted.
Ferozi, who owns 34 acres of prime land in the area, was freed for some hours on bail to participate in the launching ceremony. The revenue accruing from the project would help him repay the loans, the official reasoned, assuring the global fraternity that the case was being processed transparently.
However, Prof. Shahla Farid of the Kabul University said trade laws and economic rules did not allow bank defaulters to invest in such projects. She asked how an individual owing millions of dollars to Kabul Bank and involved in corruption could invest in the housing scheme.
In other countries, she said, courts allowed convicts to launch ventures or invest in development plans only after they cleared payable dues. Flabbergasted by Ferozi’s role in the township project, the teacher wondered why presidential aides backed convicts.
Shahla Farid viewed Ferozi’s release and investment as an illegal, disappointing and confidence-busting move.
Saifuddin Saihoon, another Kabul University teacher, also denounced the government decision to release Ferozi and give him the chance to invest as unlawful. Such decisions could be taken only in backward and corrupt countries like Afghanistan, he said.
On the other hand, his colleague Fazal Ahmad Joya hailed the release as a good decision based on economic laws, because the government could recover in this way the money stolen from the bank.
“This man was a criminal in terms of hurting civil rights and must be punished he should complete his jail term,” he admitted, but defended the government’s decision as valid, because investments lent a boost to Afghanistan’s economy.
Kabul Primary Court Judge Safiullah Mujaddedi thought Ferozi should not have been freed, in that three courts had sentenced him. Ferozi should return to the exchequer the millions of dollars he had embezzled, the judge opined.
“There was no any other way; he was brought to the project site under tight security to inaugurate work on the township … he is still serving his prison term,” Mujaddedi said.
“Criminal cases have two dimensions: human rights that must be compensated by convicts and remitting the offender’s jail term is a presidential prerogative,” he said, adding the relief was granted after the court had handed down its judgment.
An official of the Attorney General Office (AGO), wishing anonymity, confided to Pajhwok Afghan News the government’s lenient policy toward Ferozi had no legal issue. This decision had been taken to recover depositors’ money, he believed.
Since it was impossible for the convicts to return their loans at once, the government had agreed to repayments over seven years, the source said. “I don’t want to comment on the court judgment, but neither the convict’s prison term would be reduced nor the dues payable by him slashed even by a single afghani.”
Keeping the convicts in jails and keeping them from finding a viable mode of repayment in no way benefitted the people; so the government should implement policies that ensured the recovery of public wealth, he suggested.
The Kabul appellant court sentenced Kabul Bank executives Sher Khan Farnood and Khalilullah Ferozi to 10 years in jail on November 11, 2014. Based on the verdict, the convicts have to pay back the embezzled amounts of money.
The court also ordered a freeze on the assets of Mahmoud Karzai, the former president’s brother, and Haseen Fahim. Farnood has been convicted on the charge of embezzling 374 million US dollars. In addition to returning the money, he has been ordered to pay 155 million dollars in fine.
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