On Wednesday night, the Twitter account for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior Affairs (MOI) announced that a foreign company was investing $450 million into setting up a hashish processing factory within the country. The factory – due to launch soon, according to the Twitter account – would manufacture hashish-based medicines and creams and give job opportunities to hundreds of people. It would also signal the Taliban government’s first official deal as a legal seller of narcotics.
The company behind the investment, MOI said, was called Cpharm – which also happens to be the name of an Australian pharmaceutical company that provides “bespoke collaborative pharmaceutical services to emerging and established companies within the pharmaceutical, device and consumer health industries.” Multiple media outlets connected the dots, and a barrage of headlines subsequently fired off across the Internet proclaiming that the Taliban had contracted “Australian company Cpharm” to set up a cannabis centre in Afghanistan.
None of them, it seems, verified these claims with Cpharm itself. It wasn’t until hours after the articles had started circulating that the Australian company in question heard of the deal at all.
“Cpharm Australia is not a drug or medical manufacturer, and it’s not engaged in discussions with the Taliban re cannabis,” Cpharm’s chief financial officer, Tony Gabites, told VICE World News over the phone. “We don’t make any drugs. The first we heard about it was someone calling our office this morning.”
Cpharm is a consulting service that gives post-market assistance to clients in various areas of the medical services industry – a “small boutique company” that has been operating since 2002. Now, Gabites is having to do some damage control due to the unfortunate similarity of their company name and that of the one the Taliban claims it is working with. “I’m frustrated, because it’s very difficult to stop these things spreading,” he said.
He’s now in the process of contacting the relevant media outlets to ask that they take the articles down. It is, he said, a concerning and stressful situation.
“There is a lot of work,” he explained, “and there’s no particular structure for how you fix these problems and how you stop it spreading, when it’s all just rubbish.”
It’s as yet unclear what deal – or, more specifically, what actual company – MOI is referring to in its tweets. VICE World News reached out to the Twitter account for comment, but did not receive a reply. One possibility is that the Taliban is in fact involved with another, non-Australian company registered under a similar name. The original tweets never actually mentioned Australia, and the fact that Cpharm has been implicated in this whole mess at all seems to be the result of presumptuous misreporting from media outlets rather than a mistruth from the government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
“It’s just a shame that the media organisations aren’t checking their facts,” said Gabites. “No one’s contacted us to discuss it with us; you’re the first person that’s done that from the media. So anyone that says they’ve talked to us and we’ve refused to comment, or they’ve tried to contact us – that’s untrue as well.”
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