EU investigators are examining claims that the organisation’s compound in Kabul is at the centre of an alleged alcohol-smuggling ring in .
Disused fridges and adapted gas canisters have been used to sneak bottles of alcohol brands such as Chivas Regal and Johnnie Walker out of the official EU-designated area, it is alleged.
Leaked Facebook and WhatsApp messages sent to EU investigators appear to show that beer, wine and spirits bought for the consumption of European officials were instead sold on to local businessmen.
The possession and consumption of alcohol is illegal in Afghanistan, a mainly Muslim country, but a in Kabul. Special dispensation to import alcohol has been given to foreign powers including the EU.
Its internal investigating unit is examining the claims, a spokesman said. They could cause major embarrassment for the European External Action Service [EEAS], which acts as the EU diplomatic corps and oversees the mission in the Afghan capital.
The allegations centre on the EU’s compound in the Shahr-e-Naw neighbourhood of north-west Kabul. Up to 40 European expats and 70 locals have worked in the three-storey office building and adjoining restaurant, Tawoos, former staff said.
Suspicions emerged in August when restaurant workers transporting a supposedly disused fridge from the compound were forced to show its contents to a senior manager. She then described events to the then EU special representative for Afghanistan Franz-Michael Mellbin.
“I was having dinner with [a colleague] when I saw that Tawoos employees were trying to move out of the compound a big fridge,” the senior manager wrote.
“I asked them why and they said the fridge was broken. A few minutes after, I went to the car and instructed them to open the fridge. I insisted, but they didn’t want to open it.
“But after having called additional security … they opened the fridge, which was full of alcohol. I took pictures. Please advise.”
It is claimed that this was not the only ingenious method of transporting alcohol to “customers” in Kabul.
Bottles were also allegedly placed in adapted 1.5-metre (5ft) gas canisters. Sometimes, they were hidden in wheelbarrows used to take rubbish from the compound at night, one source said.
Complainants have asked the EU to investigate whether the compound has been importing extra alcohol to meet the demands of the alleged bootlegging operation.
Documents seen by the Guardian show Kabul’s EU delegation spent $509,948 (£386,000) with MENA Supplies LLC, the company that provides most of its alcohol, over 20 months to December 2016.
A bill from January, marked with the words delegation Afghanistan, shows that in a single order, $21,035 was spent on alcohol including $2,928 on 120 bottles of Chivas Regal, $1,890 on 60 bottles of Johnnie Walker Double Black and $625.50 on 720 cans of Heineken.
Brussels investigators have been sent copies of Facebook and WhatsApp messages sent by one of the alleged bootleggers that appear to show the size of orders taken from local businessmen.
In one exchange, a compound insider wrote: “Send me please want [sic] you need.”
The reply from a local businessman, written on 25 April 2016, said [sic]:
2 red wine box
1 white wine
2 glenfedich (red) 6 black label
3 jack Daniel
Another leaked message appears to show the large markup on each bottle of alcohol. One “customer” of a suspected drinks smuggler was sent a price list on which a bottle of Chivas Regal, which cost the EU $24.40 to purchase from the delegation’s supplier, was sold on for $50, while a bottle of vodka, which cost $9.65, was sold on for $60.
It is not the first time diplomatic employees have been accused of involvement in selling on alcohol in a majority Muslim country.
It emerged last week that a burglary at the Islamabad residence of Hyon Ki-yong, a North Korean diplomat, raised suspicion that the envoy may have been .
The burglars took whisky, beer and wine, including more than 1,000 bottles of Johnnie Walker Black Label, Reuters claimed.
The EU did not respond to questions asking whether EU taxpayers had lost out because of the alleged bootlegging operation.
An EU spokeswoman said EEAS, the European commission and the EU delegation in Kabul became aware of the allegations at the end of August and immediately informed the European anti-fraud office (Olaf), which is deciding whether to launch a formal investigation.
“The EEAS and the European commission take any allegations of wrongdoing extremely seriously,” she said.
“Olaf assesses incoming information of potential investigative interest according to standard procedures. It is only after such an initial assessment that Olaf decides whether or not to open an investigation.
“The EEAS and the European commission recall that the presumption of innocence applies.
“The EEAS and the European commission are not aware of other suspected alcohol-smuggling operations or other allegations with regard to alcohol smuggling that would involve other EU premises.”
The Afghan government has not responded to requests for comment.