Although there were reports circulating that former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani and his associates fled Afghanistan with $150 million in cash in August of 2021 as the country’s government collapsed, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction says that is highly unlikely.
“Although SIGAR found that some cash was taken from the grounds of the palace and loaded onto these helicopters [that carried Ghani to Uzbekistan], evidence indicates that this number did not exceed $1 million and may have been closer in value to $500,000,” Inspector General John F. Sopko wrote in a report for lawmakers. “Most of this money was believed to have come from several Afghan government operating budgets normally managed at the palace.”
The reason to doubt the rumors of a massive theft is simple: It would be hard to hide and carry all that money, which no witnesses recall seeing. “This amount of cash would have been difficult to conceal,” Sopko said. “It would be quite substantial in terms of bulk and heft: $169 million in hundred dollar bills, stacked end to end, would form a block 7.5 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 3 feet tall. In other words, it would be somewhat larger than a standard American three-seater couch. This block would have weighed 3,722 pounds, or nearly two tons.”
Still, millions of dollars from Afghan accounts remain unaccounted for, though it’s unlikely we’ll know who made off with it. “With Afghan government records and surveillance videos from those final days likely in Taliban hands, SIGAR is currently unable to determine how much money was ultimately stolen, and by whom,” the report concluded.