When OCCRP reported that former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had granted access to a company, part-owned by his brother, the rights to buy illegally mined artisanal chromite across Afghanistan, the government was outraged.
Shortly after the investigation was published in April last year, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines and Petroleum released a statement denying it had signed any such deal, and calling the investigation’s findings “baseless” and “untrue.”
Now documents published by the very same ministry show the company started collecting chromite while Ghani was in office — and raise fresh questions about the former president’s knowledge of his brother’s involvement in the deal.
OCCRP’s previous reporting showed Ghani’s brother, Hashmat, held a hidden 20 percent stake in Southern Development, a subsidiary of a Virginia-based military contractor that in 2019 won the right to buy chromite from miners across Afghanistan. At the time, it was not clear how much the deal was worth, or whether the company had actually obtained any minerals.
Documents posted to the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum’s website show Southern Development received at least 1.1 million kilograms, or about 1,200 short tons, of chromite that had been confiscated from artisanal miners. They also show that it requested approval to obtain up to 200,000 tons of chromite, which would likely have been worth up to $120 million at the time.
Among the documents are minutes from a briefing for the former president, which state that Southern Development was 20 percent owned by unnamed “Afghans.”
Ikram Afzali, the executive director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan, an anti-corruption organization, said the documents raised questions about how much Ghani knew about his brother’s role in the company, and when.
“There’s no way he would approve a contract and not know the details of it,” he said.
The documents were made public shortly before the Taliban seized Kabul in August last year, although it is not clear exactly when they were posted online. Since then, Ashraf Ghani has fled to the United Arab Emirates, while his brother has pledged allegiance to the new Taliban regime. Southern Development’s website is now offline. According to the Taliban government’s Ministry of Mines, Southern Development no longer has any mineral contracts.