x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Afghan air crash victims' families in limbo

Representatives of the families of the Afghan victims in the crash of Pamir Airways Flight 112 say they want compensation and claim Kabul Bank corruption had a role in the death of their loved ones.

Kabul Bank, which owns Pamir Airways, is being investigated by the Afghan government over allegations of corruption and cronyism.
Kabul Bank, which owns Pamir Airways, is being investigated by the Afghan government over allegations of corruption and cronyism.

The families of victims of the Pamir Airways flight 112 crash are demanding full compensation for the deaths of their loved ones after receiving only a fraction of the amount promised by the airline.

The controversy over the payments is the latest blow for Kabul Bank, Afghanistan's largest financial institution, which owns Pamir and is under investigation for fraud.

Karima Sadiqi, who lost two daughters in the accident last May, said she was representing the families of 29 of the 44 victims. Despite Pamir promising about US$155,000 (Dh569,315) for each victim, the families have received only $11,000. The airline has been closed down and its accounts frozen pending a review by the aviation authority.

In an interview from Kunduz, where she is a member of the provincial council, Ms Sadiqi said the airline was poorly managed and blamed the government for weak regulation.

"The government should pay this compensation because the government gave a licence to the airline," she said.

Pamir operated a network of domestic and international routes including the UAE, India and Saudi Arabia. It was shut down by the government this month after it emerged documents associated with the plane that crashed were forged and the company had not made full payments to the crash victims' families.

Pamir executives were given one month to rectify the situation or risk losing their licence permanently, according to the acting head of the ministry of transport and civil aviation.

Kabul Bank is at the heart of the government's investigation into corruption and cronyism. Of the bank's holdings, 94 per cent, or $850 million, was used for loans to shareholders and politically connected individuals, according to a report from the US government, which is training the Afghan government to oversee the financial sector. Much of this money could be lost, including more than $90m that was used to acquire Pamir.

Ms Sadiqi said she lost both her daughters in the crash. Lailoma Samadi, the elder, was a defence lawyer in the women-only Badam Bagh prison in Kabul. Sodaba Samadi, the younger daughter, had graduated from high school.

They were returning home from a family gathering in Kunduz when the plane crashed into the Salang Pass about 100km from Kabul International Airport. An investigation into the cause of the crash is under way, although this has been hampered because the flight recorders recovered from the site were empty.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Ms Sadiqi said the families were promised compensation, but it had yet to materialise. She had travelled to Dubai, where Pamir has an office, to meet insurance executives and government officials, including the minister of transport.

"Without intervention, no one will give us our rights," she said.

Pamir declined to comment for this article, citing the investigation into the crash. A source close to the company said last week it would have difficulty making payments after the government shut it down and froze bank accounts.

Pamir is also involved in a payment dispute with Kapital Insurance, the Russian company that insured the plane as well as the passengers who died in the crash, the source said.

Nasir Ahmad Ibrahimi, whose brother died in the crash, said an insurance official introduced to the families through Pamir had offered a lower sum of $25,000 to each family, but they rejected it. He blamed the government for allowing Pamir to operate the plane.

"It was the responsibility of the government to check the documents," he said. "The government has shut down the airline so now the government should pay us compensation."

His brother, Nazir Ahmad Ibrahimi, was a 27-year-old translator for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. He left behind his wife and a young daughter.

Mr Ibrahimi said an investigation needed to be completed to find out how the plane was certified to fly in Afghanistan despite being more than 37 years old.

* with reporting by Ali Safi in Kabul