By Zack Kopplin 28 April 2021
How Afghanistan’s President Helped His Brother Secure Lucrative Mining Deals with a U.S. Contractor.
With the stroke of a pen, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani put his sibling into the chromite business with a tarnished U.S. defense contractor.
What is America fighting for in Afghanistan? After a two year investigation, Margaux Benn and Zack Kopplin have uncovered an illegal mining corruption ring involving an American military contractor, the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, his brother, Hashmat, and even American Special Forces.
The full story is published at occrp.org (How Afghanistan’s President Helped His Brother Secure Lucrative Mining Deals with a U.S. Contractor)
It gets even more important now, with the withdrawal of U.S. troops planned for September, as the bulk of the American involvement in Afghanistan will be through contractors.
- In 2019 SOS International (SOSi), a Virginia company with links to the U.S. military, won exclusive access to mines across Afghanistan. President Ashraf Ghani’s brother is a major shareholder of a SOSi subsidiary.
- President Ghani granted this SOSi subsidiary, Southern Development, rights to buy artisanally mined ore. Southern Development operates a mineral processing plant on the outskirts of Kabul.
- The inroads made by SOSi and Southern Development into Afghanistan’s mining sector have roots in a 2011 initiative by U.S. special forces to work illegally with members of a pro-government Afghan militia on mining in Kunar province.
- Although shut down after an inquiry, these Kunar projects have since been quietly restarted as a private venture, and are benefitting those closest to the president.
Zack Kopplin gives a point by point summary :
- This story starts with a Pentagon office’s mining project in Afghanistan’s Kunar province in 2011. A small Defense Department group, the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, was tasked with promoting local business development and asked special forces for help
- Special Forces told the Task Force to help two local warlords who they were buddies with. These warlords had been selling chromite into Pakistan, but if they could process the chromite, it would be worth more. The Task Force got the local warlords $3.8 million in equipment :
- Unfortunately, this was illegal under Afghan law for several reasons. Government officials can’t hold mining to prevent corruption and these warlords qualified as close enough to government officials to make this inappropriate
- Also, the mines were unregistered, meaning there were no health, safety, environment or child labor protections. They even could be controlled by the Taliban or other militant groups. But the Pentagon and special forces pushed ahead to make this mining happen.
- This lasted until 2013, when @IntegrityWatchA exposed it and it was shut down by the then Karzai-administration : CHROMITE EXTRACTION IN KUNAR, FACTOR OF [IN]STABILITY
- Unfortunately the Task Force and Special Forces operatives behind this project weren’t ready to give up. In his graduate thesis, a special forces major outlined how next time special forces wanted to promote mining, they should provide government officials “some sort of benefit”
- The whole thesis is pretty foundational to understanding special operations mining ops in Afghanistan : Link to thesis here
- Anyway, enter Emily Scott King, the head of the Task Force’s natural resources group. It didn’t make the article, but King was basically out on her own, hanging out with Special Forces and living on a special forces compound, Morehead, with an unlicensed arsenal of weapons
- King quit the Task Force after the project was shut down and leadership changed, but she never gave up. She and her husband Mark, who also worked for the Task Force, started a consultancy, Global Venture, which provided special forces mining solutions. NATURAL RESOURCE CONSULTING
- The next step for this mining project was to go private. King took the plans to SOS International, a military contractor that she may well have had connections to from her government days.
- SOS International, which goes by SOSi, an ambitious upcoming contractor, was well connected to the office of General David Petraeus, who was a huge backer of Task Force while in the military
- It also had a bunch of apparent spare cash from corrupt deals in Iraq. (SOSi is under FBI investigation in Iraq for allegedly bribing the former Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki.)
- One of those deals (and this didn’t make it into the story, I love these little extras), was called Iraq Oil Technology. Funded by an al-Maliki connected oligarch, it went belly up, but according to a SOSi employee, was rebranded as something called Southern Development
- A leaked document from a Dubai Free Zone shows a share transfer from the parent company of the Iraqi company to Southern Development
- So what is Southern Development? Let’s start with the easy part. It’s registered in Afghanistan, under Rob Baker, a SOSi employee and former Army General who was forced out after sexual harassment allegations, and in a UAE free zone.
- Trade records show it importing mining equipment from South Africa and sending chromite and talc samples to a Pakistani conglomorate, the Adamjee Group
- It also received special mineral rights from Afghanistan’s High Economic Council in a process overseen by the President directly.
- These rights included the ability to purchase chromite ore from artisanal mines in six provinces and also acquire directly from the Afghan government. But again, like in the earlier case, unlicensed mining is illegal so the President went outside the law to grant these rights
- Now the fun part, completing the circuit to the President’s brother, Hashmat. Hashmat is a powerful politician in his own right and actually ran for President at the same time as his brother when he first won. He has also owned Southern Development for nearly two decades
- The first hint came from a document obtained from a Kabul University library. It was an old city business directory from 2005 that listed Hashmat with Southern Development
- A directory of unclaimed assets in a Pakistani bank confirmed Ghani’s address matched the one listed in the registry. And a later directory tagged the SD code from the registry to that address again
- It took a while, but I found a second Afghan business registration for Southern Development, (searching the Afghan business registry is an art, not a science) and while it didn’t have Hashmat’s name, it had a phone number.
- Now I get to be super nerdy. I plugged the phone number into Skype and it gave me a name, Habibullah Habib. I got a photo of him from Whatsapp (and Viber) and found his Facebook. Turns out he’s a nephew of a man named Hamid Aryanfar.
- Aryanfar, supposedly a relative of Ghani by marriage, is the manager for a lot of Ghani’s companies. A similar phone number trick reveals that Aryanfar is behind the number listed on the website of the main family company, the Ghani Group : https://www.theghanigroup.com/
- Also pay attention to this old copy of Aryanfar’s Linkedin. He lists himself as the acting CEO of something called MILC, another Ghani company
- I managed to obtain the business registry for MILC and if you pay close attention, you’ll notice that the phone number matches Habibullah’s phone number for Southern Development
- So this is pretty good evidence that Ghani was involved with Southern Development, but the thing that just blew the lid off of everything was obtaining the ownership information of the secret company incorporated in UAE that showed Ghani maintained a 20% stake of the company
- This is an extreme personal point of pride for me. It is so tough to get records from secrecy havens, which is why oligarchs like Ghani use them to cover up corrupt deals. Getting this document was sheer perseverance