IMF wants Afghanistan's troubled Kabul Bank sold off

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 16, 2011; 2:52 PM

KABUL - The International Monetary Fund has recommended that Afghanistan's largest and most troubled bank be placed in receivership and then sold off to recover from reckless lending that brought it to the brink of collapse last year.

After a visit to Kabul this month, the IMF recommended that the Afghan government implement several "immediate measures" to deal with Kabul Bank, including prosecuting fraud and placing it under receivership.

"This will be followed by a process where the bank will be rapidly sold or wound down and the central bank is recapitalized with government resources as needed," the IMF said in a statement released Tuesday.

Depositors mobbed the bank in the fall and withdrew hundreds of millions of dollars after Afghanistan's Central Bank took control of it. Kabul Bank lent more than $900 million, much of it to politically connected shareholders, who were not paying back their loans. Kabul Bank officials have also been accused of paying millions of dollars in bribes to senior Afghan officials. Among the shareholders are brothers of President Hamid Karzai and of Vice President Mohammed Fahim.

The attorney general's office and the Central Bank have been investigating the bank and attempting to unravel what went wrong at Kabul Bank, but some Western officials and bank insiders believe that the government does not have the political will to prosecute the shareholders responsible.

The bank run forced the Afghan government to spend $450 million to stave off collapse, and U.S. officials said more money from the international community will be required to keep the bank from going under. U.S. officials said they do not believe the shareholders will pay back much of their loans.

"It's insolvent," a U.S. official said of Kabul Bank.

Kabul Bank shareholders have admitted to taking out large loans but say they plan to pay them back. Bank executives have denied paying bribes.

The IMF has pushed Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal to ask the parliament to approve a recapitalization bond for the bank but so far he has resisted, according to the U.S. official.

The problems at Kabul Bank have threatened the entire Afghan financial system, and other banks have also been reckless in their lending practices, Afghan officials said.

The IMF has postponed its approval of a line of credit partly because of the problems at Kabul Bank. The IMF said it was open to extending new credit pending a plan for the bank and "measures to increase transparency and accountability in the banking system."

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