Has Afghanistan's former vice-president fled the country with ‘stolen money’?

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Photos of Amrullah Saleh, the former vice-president of Afghanistan, sitting in what looks to be a bank have been circulating online since September 20. While Saleh says he's in hiding in the Panjshir Valley, pro-Taliban accounts and even some Afghan media claim these photos show him at a bank in the United Arab Emirates, after fleeing with "money stolen from Afghans". But it turns out these photos aren't recent.

The war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, an anti-Taliban coalition operating in Panjshir, is also a war of communication. These three photos have circulated on Twitter, with pro-Taliban accounts claiming that they are proof that Amrullah Saleh, who declared that he was the country’s legitimate president after President Ashraf Ghani fled, has left Afghanistan.

Where were these photos taken?

On one of the photos, there’s a poster on the wall in Arabic and English with a text that reads, "Savings accounts – a better way to save". If we do a Google Images search with that slogan in English and add the keywords "bank" and "Dubai", we discover that it’s a marketing slogan used by the bank Emirates NBD, a government-owned bank in Dubai.

Then we can use Foursquare to see photos of the different NBD bank branches in Dubai and narrow down where the photo was taken. That’s how we find out that it was taken in the branch in the Al Barsha neighbourhood: a photo here on Foursquare shows the same poster. There’s also the same light switch underneath the poster, as well as the back of what looks like the same chair that’s also in the photos where Amrullah Saleh is seen talking with a bank employee.

When was the photo taken?

So the photo was definitely taken in a Dubai bank, just as the pro-Taliban accounts are saying. Trying to date the photo, however, is more complicated. But there are some clues.

We can assume that the photo of Amrullah Saleh wasn’t taken after the Taliban returned to power in August of this year. We know from recent images of Amrullah Saleh that his hair is grey around the edges. But in the photo of him in the bank, his hair looks a lot darker – which might suggest that it was taken a while ago.

There’s also the fact that neither Amrullah Saleh nor the bank worker he’s talking to are wearing masks. Wearing masks in public places has been obligatory in Dubai since April 2020 and not doing so risks incurring a fine of 3,000 dirhams, or about €284.

The FRANCE 24 Observers team contacted NBD, who said, "because of our confidentiality policy, we’re not able to share information about our clients", but the bank did confirm that "for a year, all NBD staff have been required to wear a mask" and that it is "not possible to be in one of our branches and not wear a mask".

Recent photos of the inside of various NBD branches show that staff and customers are wearing masks.

Conclusion

The photos shared by pro-Taliban accounts and media do show Amrullah Saleh in a Dubai bank – but the photos date from before April 2020 and so are not proof that the former vice-president fled the country after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan.

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