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S.Sudan: Report let slip the biggest heist in Africa’s youngest nation

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By Bernard Omondi

Report uncovers scathing, chilling revelations of how South Sudan leaders are feeding on their struggling nation at the expense of its needy citizens, raking billions from a country that ranked 171 out of 175 countries in the 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index

‘Top officials ultimately responsible for mass atrocities in South Sudan have managed to accumulate fortunes despite modest government salaries,’ reads part of  an investigative report published in September 2016 by Sentry, a watchdog body co-founded by actor George Clooney, and supported by about 20 sources.

Titled, The nexus of corruption and conflict in South Sudan, the report exposes a chilling contrast between the lavish lifestyles of the country’s top bras including the military and the poverty-stricken population thriving on humanitarian aid amidst scaling civil unrest.

Some of the officials the report notes have been involved in questionable business in South Sudan, while others may have received large payments from corporations running businesses in the country.

“ Meanwhile, some top officials and their family members own stakes in a broad array of companies doing business in the country-and in some cases, these commercial engagements may be in violation of South Sudanese law,” identified the report.

The investigators further disclosed that members of these royal families live in multi-million dollar mansions outside the country stay in five-star hotels, reap the benefits of what appears to be a system of nepotism and dappled corporate deals, and drive around in luxury cars.

Questionable wealth

For instance, Gen. Paul Malong Awan, the chief of staff of Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) who reportedly makes about $45,000 salary annually, has at least two luxurious villas in Uganda in addition to a $2 million mansion in a gated community in Nairobi.

In 2015, he escaped being sanctioned by the US following accusations that he violated a ceasefire in South Sudan, but was spared due to the strong support from Angola and Russia.

Two other generals, Gen. Gabriel Jok Riak- a field commander and Gen. Malek Reuben- the Deputy Chief of Staff of the SPLA in charge of logistics for Military Procurement, have also been cited to own royalty homes in the leafy suburbs of Kampala, with the children of Gen. Malong’ and Gen Riak reported to hold stakes in oil, mining and telecommunications companies in South Sudan.

Particular leaders, the report reveals, have managed to move money with ease even though some have been axed by international organisations.

Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB), a Kenyan Bank with subsidiary in South Sudan, is quoted to have processed large payments from multinational companies operating in the country into accounts of two prominent South Sudanese officials.

“Bank transactions for Gen. Jok Riak were apparently processed even after he became subject to United Nations-imposed asset freeze in March 2015,” the report noted, clarifying that KCB failed to comment on these details when presented with the information.

However, while responding to this author over the claims, KCB Group Chief Executive and Managing Director Joshua Oigara noted that the bank remains committed to guiding customer information as required in the banking laws within the markets where it operates.

Mr. Oigara also added: “KCB South Sudan will continue working closely with the government of South Sudan with regards to resolutions on UN Security Council Sanction List 2206.”

The bank is said to have moved $3.03million through Gen. Riak’s account between 2012 and 2016, while other documents indicate that he received large financial transfers totaling to about $367,000 to his personal bank account at the same bank between February and December 2014, amounts the report said unmatched the general’s  government salary which is about $35,000.

Unfortunately, this script takes root to the presidency. Basing on data acquired from local and international organizations, Sentry indicates that South Sudanese President Salva Kiir owns a ranch in Luri area, which is located on a rural stretch West of Juba.

According to the two-year investigation report, ‘the ranch and the adjacent properties include a walled compound with numerous houses, facilities for president Kiir’s many cattle, a tract of land currently being cultivated, an airstrip and helipad, and mining and stone-crushing facilities.’

Snapshots provided by the report show the developments at and around the ranch, indicating how the president has governed by ‘cultivating relations with private companies and foreign investors, spending tens of millions of dollars of state money on lethal military hardware, among other equipment aimed at unleashing a private militia on civilians and rival factions within the military.’

“President Kiir’s ranch and adjacent properties in Luri are a microcosm of the violent kleptocratic government that President Kiir has cultivated in South Sudan.”

Other documents reportedly obtained by Sentry said President Kiir’s 12-year-old son held a 25 percent stake in a holding company formed in February 2016, while at least seven other children as well as his wife, First Lady Mary Ayen Mayardit, and the brother-in-law, Gen. Gregory Vasili, held stakes in a wide range of business ventures.

“Together, the Kiir and Vasili families have, according to these documents, held interests in almost two dozen companies operating in oil, mining, construction, gambling, banking, telecommunications, aviation, and government and military procurement.”

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Legal institutions as accomplices

Strangely, instead of broadening their legal arms to thwart corruption, lawyers and allied corporations are said to be playing a huge role in facilitating the illegal deals.

“The paperwork for the formation of Combined Holding Limited- the company in which President Kiir’s 12-year-old son purportedly held a 25 percent stake as of early 2016- had to pass through the hands of a corporate lawyer and through the registrar of companies in Juba.”

Also: “The home that Gen. Jok Riak maintains in Kampala is not registered in his name. Rather, the deed for the home indicates that it is owned by a Ugandan national named Adrian Mubiru,” the report notes, citing bank records that facilitated the deal.

Additionally, sets of documents obtained by Sentry indicate that in mid-2014, a Russian broker Mark Goldmann acted as an intermediary between vice president Riek Machar and a Kiev-based defense firm Nebo Ukrainy, in a deal that would see Mr. Machar ‘import military equipment for the improvement of his defense in return for crude oil from S. Sudan’.

Living large

Also in the investigation, is an architectural rendition that reveals a neatly furnished villa in a well-guarded compound, allegedly located in Lavington estate- a high-end suburb in Nairobi, which Sentry says it confirmed to be owned by President Kiir’s family.

Ironically, the mansion is reported to neighbor another lavish home owned by Riek Machar, President Kiir’s former deputy and political arch rival.

Further, it notes that members of the president’s family residing outside their country receive much better educational opportunities than most South Sudanese citizens.

“At least some of President Kiir’s children and grandchildren attend private schools outside of South Sudan. One knowledgeable source reports that four of the president’s grandchildren attend a private school on the outskirts of Nairobi that costs roughly $10,000 per year.”

Other several children, the report says, have attended high school and college in Australia, Malaysia and Uganda.

Intriguingly, while Mr. Clooney explains more details in his report at various forums, the South Sudanese government through President Kiir’s spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny has sharply criticized the investigation saying it is based on allegations aimed at jeopardizing his country.

He has warned that the South Sudan government would challenge the report’s claims.

In a past commentary (dated 20th August, 2016) with Sudan Tribune, Beny Gideon Mabor, a South Sudanese private lawyer who is also a member of the Strategic Defense and Security Review Board, says tax compliant citizens should hold their leaders accountable by providing development of all forms in an equally distributive manner.

Ironically, “Two years after independence, South Sudanese leaders who acquired political and economic power at all costs either forget or deliberately compromise the very values and vital national interests that shaped peoples’ historical revolution,” Mabor says.

Situation at the treasury

This seems to have taken a toll on the country’s financial granary going by the revelations of a source who spoke to a local daily in the country.

In August 2016, Sudan Tribune quoted a senior official from South Sudan’s ministry of finance pleading for financial aid saying treasury lacked funds for running key sectors.

“Truth must be said. There is nothing in the treasury. The central bank is empty. It has no money. The little which comes from oil and the non-oil revenues goes for defense and security loans. This leaves nothing to pay employees,” the official disclosed.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source added that prices of consumer goods and services had increased in the markets because traders from the region fled following fighting between rival forces in the capital Juba.

Despite South Sudan external debt dynamics appearing to be favorable given its abundant oil and mining resources, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reports that severe political instability, insecurity, insufficient reforms and a disruption to oil production could quickly destabilize the country’s debt ratios.

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