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Former Afghan bank official says he fled to US fearing for his safety

By Jamie Crawford, CNN National Security Producer
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Abul Qadeer Fitrat was governor of Afghanistan's Central Bank
  • He tells CNN he fled to the United States fearing retribution for an investigation
  • The probe focused on a corruption scandal allegedly involving Afghan officials

Washington (CNN) -- The former governor of Afghanistan's Central Bank told CNN Tuesday that "credible information from credible sources" led to his resignation and subsequent flight to the United Stated -- claiming he feared retribution for his investigation of a corruption scandal that involved high-level officials in the Afghan government.

Abul Qadeer Fitrat said he called for a "public and transparent open prosecution" of Kabul Bank, which allegedly extended fraudulent loans to well-connected businessmen, ministers, and even relatives of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

"I wanted to insist on a prosecution of those who are extremely powerful, and who are well connected to high political authorities of Afghanistan," Fitrat told CNN's Chris Lawrence. "I wanted public prosecution under the eyes of the international community."

The bank, Afghanistan's largest private financial institution, suffered a run by its depositors last September after the central bank replaced senior managers amid allegations of corruption surrounding more than $900 million in loans, many of them interest-free and made without proper documentation, no collateral or repayment plans, to shareholders including Karzai's brother, Mahmoud, and Muhammed Qasim Fahim, the first vice president. The recipients allegedly used the loans to finance lavish lifestyles outside of Afghanistan.

Kabul Bank handled salary payments for thousands of Afghan soldiers, police and public workers and was reported to have held up to $1 billion in deposits belonging to Afghan citizens last September.

The ensuing crisis threatened to trigger a collapse of the entire Afghan financial system, and exposed widespread corruption throughout the Afghan banking sector.

"The people of Afghanistan and the international community know them, I just do not want to be specific," Fitrat said when pressed by CNN for the names of those in the government he claimed were involved in the scandal, before relenting and saying it was "probably true" that Karzai's brother and Fahim were among those involved.

"Corruption is happening at the highest levels. I do not deny that there are honest ministers in the cabinet of the government of Afghanistan -- their numbers are limited," he said.

Fitrat said he raised his concerns of the scandal to high level officials in the Afghan government only to be rebuffed. It was after he raised the issue in the parliament, where it was welcomed "overwhelmingly" that "conspiracies against my life began." Since his arrival in the United States, the Afghan government has issued a warrant for his arrest that he calls "nonsense."

Afghan government officials have since questioned the veracity of Fitrat's claims of who bears responsibility for the problems with Kabul bank.

"Six years ago it was a very good bank, but in 2010 it was going downhill, but the leadership of the central bank was still giving it good reports," Azizullah Ludin, the head of President Karzai's high commission on corruption told the New York Times.

With permanent resident status in the United States, Fitrat said he has no plans to return to Afghanistan and wants "to have a quiet personal life," with his family. "I wanted to sincerely serve" the people of Afghanistan, he said, "and I did my best, Now I want to do something else."