Saturday, September 4, 2010

We're being played by the Afghans, who are looking for a bailout

KABUL, Afghanistan — In a bid to fend off the threat of a nationwide financial crisis, the Afghan government scrambled to come up with the funds to bail out Afghanistan’s largest bank on Saturday after lines of frantic depositors mobbed the bank for a third day.

Details of the deal were still being worked out on Saturday by the Central Bank of Afghanistan with technical assistance from the United States Treasury Department, Afghan and American officials said. But American officials said no United States funds were involved in the bailout.

The planned injection of cash into the beleaguered Kabul Bank is meant to slow the run on the bank by its customers, who have withdrawn more than $200 million in the past few days amid fears of a wider economic collapse.

But on Saturday, thousands of nervous Afghan depositors, unaware of the bailout and unconvinced of the bank’s solvency, stormed the bank’s central branch in Kabul to withdraw their savings.

Hundreds of men pushed and shoved their way to the front, while others waited behind them for hours in the saunalike atmosphere of the lobby, making it impossible to discern where the lines ended and began. Furious customers shouted angry complaints. An elderly woman in a black dress cried out in distress.

But the teller drawers were largely empty and most customers left empty-handed. “What should I give you when I have nothing to give?” a teller told one agitated customer.

Similar scenes were reported at branches in other cities.

The panic began last week when the Central Bank ousted the chairman and the chief executive officer of Kabul Bank, after discovering that the bank had acted recklessly, lending tens of millions of dollars to allies of President Hamid Karzai and pouring money into risky real estate investments in Dubai.

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