AS billions of US dollars flowed in to rebuild Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban in 2001, many contractors were accused of skimming reconstruction funds. Today, some of them own luxury properties in Dubai.

An investigation for OCCRP’s Dubai Unlocked project by a team of journalists reveals prominent Afghans who feature in the leaks of Dubai real estate.

The ex-speaker of Afghan parliament and his son own luxury real estate in Dubai. Mir Rahman Rah­m­ani and his son Ajmal poured at least $15.2 million into properties.

The revelation comes just months after the Rahmanis were slapped with the US Treasury Department’s sanctions alleging they siphoned off millions of dollars in US reconstruction funds. (The Rahmanis challenged the sanctions in a lawsuit filed against the US government on January 31.)

The sanctions notice, issued in December 2023, also blocked dozens of companies it said Ajmal Rahmani owned or controlled. An investigation by OCCRP, Lighthouse Reports, and Etilaat Roz found they bought real estate in Dubai during and after the period the US says they were allegedly engaged in corruption in Afghanistan. At least two of the companies named by the US were used to develop large complexes in Dubai, Ocean Residencia and Fern Heights, which contain a total of 228 units that generate over $2m in rental income every year.

In Germany, land registry documents show that six companies owned by Ajmal Rahmani hold real estate worth 197m euros, according to new reporting by an OCCRP partner, ZDF frontal. (In a written response to questions, Ajmal Rahmani said he was “unable to confirm this figure.”)

Other Afghan contractors implicated in alleged corruption schemes have also snapped up real estate in Dubai. They include Rashid Popal, whose private security firm was found by a 2010 congressional investigation to be using US reconstruction funds to pay bribes to Taliban and other militants, as well as government security forces controlling supply-route checkpoints.

Another former contractor, Saed Ismail Amiri, a California resident who was sentenced to 15 months in prison for his role in a scheme to defraud the government of Afghanistan out of more than $100m, also owns a villa in The Meadows worth an estimated $1.6m today. He did not respond to a request for comment.

And Stephen Orenstein, principal in the company Supreme Group, which along with subsidiaries, was hit with $434m in fines and settlements by the US government for overbilling the military mission in Afghanistan for food and water, owned a villa in the Emirates Hills community, which bills itself as “the Beverly Hills of Dubai” and features two golf clubs. The property last sold for $16.8m in 2022. Orenstein said through a representative that he no longer owned the villa and that no money from US contracts had been used to purchase the property.

US government auditors say billions of dollars in reconstruction funds were stolen or misused over the two decades of Western intervention in the war-torn country. The anti-corruption expert in Afghanistan said she believes efforts to crack down on fraud and corrupt politicians were thwarted by Western advisers who argued it was important to maintain what “little political stability” existed in the country.­

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2024

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