Afghan Poker Star Funds Secret Villas for Karzai & Pals
Kabul Bank gives hidden loans to officials
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 22, 2010 7:29 AM CST
A screenshot from a Kabul Bank TV commercial, aired in Afghanistan.
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(Newser) – Afghanistan’s largest commercial bank has been giving off-the-books multimillion-dollar loans to top members of Hamid Karzai’s government, to help them buy luxury villas in Dubai. Kabul Bank's founder and chairman is Sherkhan Farnood, Afghanistan’s only world-class poker player, and many of the villas, including Karzai’s own, are in his name. “What I’m doing is not proper, and not exactly what I should do,” Farnood the Washington Post. “But this is Afghanistan.”

Afghan laws prohibit hidden overseas lending and require a rigorous accounting of all transactions, but Farnood says such under-the-table deals are common. Kabul Bank has deep ties to Karzai; its executives helped finance his reelection campaign, and his older brother Mahmoud is a partial owner of the bank—a 7.4% stake he bought by way of a $5 million loan...from the bank. Afghanistan’s central bank says it has “vigorously investigated” the “rumors” of the Dubai deals, but hasn’t been able to find anything.