Surveyor Richard Scarth had a normal job working as a property consultant for the Mayor of London until, after being called up as a Royal Navy reservist to serve within Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003, his life changed radically.
After eight months spent in the forces and after a spell working for the US government, in 2006 Scarth decided to use his property experience in the region, eventually setting in Kabul where along with a local businessman he established an estate agency – Property Consulting Afghanistan – with a traditional high street branch (pictured).
The business became a successful commercial and residential sales and lettings agency that specialised in renting out the the city’s larger upmarket villas to organisations looking to set up in Kabul during the post-Taliban era following the US invasion.
It also operated as a consultancy working on property deals across Afghanistan on behalf of both foreign and Afghan investors, and nations looking to establish embassies.
“It was very different from the UK but the same rules applied – everyone wants to value their property, see that value increase and ensure they’ve got proper title – it’s the same principles wherever you are,” he says.
This included work on the deal to bag a plot for £1 billion US embassy in Kabul, but also a project with colleague Michael Castle-Miller to establish industrial estates in Afghanistan in a bid to create a more solid economy.
But the way senior government jobs within the country were often given to people with little experience meant this project never got off the ground.
“Establishing industrial estates could have created a million jobs across Afghanistan, and this would have created a more stable economy and a better outcome for the country than the current one,” he says.
Scarth says Afghanistan also offered up some surprises; businessmen who could be classed as ‘warlords’ and who he felt would kill people at a drop of a hat always paid for his services on time and were great to deal with, unlike one embassy which he had to sue to get his fees paid.
His business grew to employ a clutch of locals and while his former Afghan business partner is now working in the US in property development and he is working for the Mayor of Washington, he is worried what will happen to these former staff now that the US has exited the country.
“It is so sad to see all the work to make Afghanistan a better place lost,” he says.
Scarth, who ended up commuting between Afghanistan and Dubai, eventually left the running of the estate agency to the local team, but the increasing corruption within the country meant doing property deals became harder and harder.
“The increasing grip of bribery on the country is why the Taliban were able to overrun the cities so fast – nothing worked properly any longer,” he says.
But not all has been in vain. Richard’s experiences of his time in the country were used to create a TV show pilot for a US channel.
“Our pilot has stood the test of time and history has shown that we captured today’s issues all those years ago,” says.
Read our full interview with Richard Scarth in the next issue of The Negotiator magazine.