The administration of US President Joe Biden is seeking to release half of the Afghan central bank’s US$7 billion (A$9.8 billion) frozen assets on US soil to help the Afghan people while restraining the remains to possibly satisfy terrorism-related lawsuits against the Taliban, White House says.
Biden signed an executive order declaring a national emergency to address the threat of economic collapse in Afghanistan, setting the wheels in motion for a complex resolution of competing interests in Afghan assets.
The US Department of Justice is due to present a plan to a federal judge on Friday on what to do with the frozen funds amid urgent calls from US lawmakers and the United Nations for the money to be used to deal with the grave economic crisis which has worsened since the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban in August.
Senior US administration officials have said they will work to secure access to $3.5 billion in assets – which come mostly from aid to Afghanistan over the past two decades – for the benefit of of the Afghan people.
They said the United States would create a third-party trust in the coming months to administer the funds, but details were still being worked out on how this entity would be structured and how the funds could be used.
The multi-step plan calls for the other half of the funds to remain in the United States, subject to ongoing lawsuits by American victims of terrorism, including relatives of those who died in the September 11, 2001, attacks. officials said.
The US government froze Afghan funds after the Taliban military takeover in August, but has come under pressure to find a way to release the money without acknowledging the new Afghan administration, which says it is theirs.
Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s designated representative to the United Nations, demanded that the full amount be released and kept under control of the Afghan central bank.
“The reserve is the property of Da Afghanistan Bank and by extension the property of the Afghan people. We want the full amount released as Da Afghanistan Bank reserve,” Shaheen told Reuters.
The spokesperson for the Taliban office in Doha criticized the US decision in a tweet: “The theft and takeover of the frozen money that belongs to the Afghan people by the US shows the lowest level of human decline and morale of a country and a nation”.
Control of the funds is complicated by lawsuits brought by some 9/11 victims and their families seeking to cover unsatisfied court judgments related to the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Biden’s new executive order requires U.S. financial institutions to transfer all Afghan central bank assets held in a consolidated account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Afghanistan has an additional $2 billion in reserves, held in countries including the UK, Germany, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.
Most of these funds are also frozen.
Australian Associated Press