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Did a British tabloid get duped by man claiming ex Afghanistan president fled with millions in cash?

11 اکتوبر 2021
Former Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani denies taking cash with him. Reuters
Former Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani denies taking cash with him. Reuters

When Afghanistan former president Ashraf Ghani left the country after the Taliban takeover, there were rumors that he fled with cash, a claim he denied. However, those claims resurfaced on Saturday, this time from his bodyguard Brigadier General Piraz Ata Sharifi in an interview to the Daily Mail -- and have been widely published but are they true?

In an interview to Mail Online on Saturday, Sharifi -- who has a 1m Afghanis price on his head -- was living "an underground existence; moving from cellar to squalid cellar" when the tabloid staff met with him.

He claims he "has the palace CCTV evidence to prove" that Ghani fled the country with heavy bags filled with hundreds of millions of dollars of public money.

However, on Sunday, Saad Mohseni, publisher at Moby Group, tweeted that the man the paper met is a con artist.

It raises questions as to how the Mail did its fact checking.

In the story, Sharifi, or the man claiming to be him, said he will share that CCTV footage if he is able to escape but he told the paper he's worried the Taliban are closing in on him.

He said he has a gun and will use it on himself because "if the Taliban capture me, they will kill me themselves."

He then narrated his story from how he was a military officer for at least two decades when he joined the presidential palace's security force in 2005; his salary paid by the U.S. government. He was part of a team of the most trusted soldiers for the US installed government.

Although he thought he was part of Ghani's inner circle, it was clear he was not when the Taliban took over Kabul and he heard important leaders were fleeing.

Reuters was the first to report that Ghani left Afghanistan with a 'helicopter full of cash' leaving some behind.

Ghani denied those allegations in September by which time it was known he had escaped to the UAE.

Sharifi's claims corroborate the Reuters story.

"I have a [CCTV] recording [from the palace] which shows that an individual at the Afghan Bank brought a lot of money to Ghani before he left. Hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars. There were many big bags and they were heavy. It was not rice," Sharifi told Mail Online.

"This money was supposed to be for the currency exchange market. Each Thursday, the dollars were brought for that purpose. Instead, it was taken by the president. Ghani knew in the end what would happen. So he took all the money and escaped."

Sharifi says he'll share those images when he escapes but so far he has not been able to leave Afghanistan despite several attempts. And his family's life is in danger as well.

Afghanistan's new interior minister, Siraj Haqqani, has issued a statement asking Sharifi to surrender and has intensified the search for him.

Ghani has not yet commented on the claims made by Sharifi or the man posing to be him.

The Mail is no stranger to controversy or getting the story wrong. In 2020 they published a story alleging that then Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif had stolen and laundered UK aid money. Sharif denied the charge and sued for defamation. In 2021, a UK court, after holding a hearing meaning, said the paper had now had to prove those claims or risk losing the case.