By KEVIN J. KELLEY
A report has revealed how South Sudanese politicians and their families have managed to accrue wealth as citizens continue dying due to persistent war and hunger.
The report by The Sentry, a watchdog group co-founded by Hollywood actor George Clooney, on Monday said that large sums of money have moved through accounts in Kenyan banks held by major figures in South Sudan.
Also, President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar maintain family homes a short distance from one another in a wealthy Nairobi neighbourhood.
A compound occupied by members of President Kiir’s family sits inside a gated community in Lavington, “one of Nairobi’s most upscale neighbourhoods”, states the 65-page report titled War Crimes Shouldn’t Pay and released in Washington, DC.
The extensive property was found to include a two-storey, pale yellow villa that is more than 5,000 square feet in size.
Dr Machar, the leader of South Sudan’s armed opposition, also has family members living in a luxurious home in Lavington.
The property includes “a large backyard with a large stone patio and in-ground swimming pool”, The Sentry reveals.
It further indicates that the property “is located a short drive from the Kiir home”.
Machar’s family previously lived in an elegant villa with six bedrooms and five bathrooms in a gated community in Runda, located in Nairobi’s outskirts, the report adds.
Four of President Kiir’s grandchildren attend a private school in a Nairobi suburb that costs about Sh1 million ($10,000) a year, The Sentry adds citing a “knowledgeable” anonymous source.
“President Kiir officially earns about Sh6 million ($60,000) per year.”
Posts on social media show Kiir family members “riding jet skis, driving in luxury vehicles, partying on boats, clubbing and drinking in the Villa Rosa Kempinski — one of Nairobi’s fanciest and most expensive hotels — all during South Sudan’s current civil war”, it says.
The war has forced 1.6 million of South Sudan’s 12 million people to flee their homes for UN-protected compounds or refugee camps in neighbouring countries.
The UN estimates that 5.2 million South Sudanese are in urgent need of food and other forms of humanitarian assistance.
Gen Paul Malong Awan, chief of staff of South Sudan’s army, “has been the architect of immense human suffering” in the course of the conflict, The Sentry says.
It reports that his family owns a villa in an upscale community within Nyari Estate in Nairobi.
“The home includes marble floors throughout, a grand staircase, numerous balconies, a guest house, an expansive driveway and a large in-ground pool.”
When visited by investigators from The Sentry, the home’s driveway was occupied by five luxury cars including three new BMW sport utility vehicles.
“Three independent sources told The Sentry that Gen Malong owns the house, with one source saying that the Malong family paid $1.5 million in cash for the home several years ago,” the report adds.
It notes that Gen Malong is likely to have earned the rough equivalent of Sh4.5 million ($45,000) a year in official salary.
“Gen Malong also has two large and luxurious homes in Uganda,” the report continues.
“One of these homes sits inside a walled compound located just off Kawuku-Bwerenga Road, halfway between Kampala and Entebbe. Built in 2012, this two-story home is a massive, rose-coloured mansion with dozens of large, ornate windows and appears to be well over 7,000 square feet.
“The interior is spacious, elegant, and well-maintained, with several portraits of Gen Malong hanging throughout the home.”
Massive corruption lies at the core of South Sudan’s crisis, the report says.
It cites a leaked letter written by President Kiir stating that “an estimated $4 billion are unaccounted for or, simply put, stolen by former and current officials, as well as corrupt individuals with close ties to government officials”.
The Sentry observes that “none of these funds has been recovered — and the kleptocratic system that allowed the looting in the first place remains completely intact”.
Governments of Kenya and other countries should investigate whether “laws are being violated by banks that process suspicious transactions on behalf of South Sudanese political and military figures”, The Sentry urges.
It adds: “These banks should already be conducting enhanced due diligence” in regard to South Sudanese officials’ accounts in accordance with international financial monitoring recommendations.
In the course of a two-year investigation, The Sentry reviewed documents which it says show Sh300 million ($3 million) moving through a personal account at Kenya Commercial Bank held by Gen Malek Reuben Riak, the South Sudan army’s deputy chief of staff for logistics, between 2012 and 2016.
He is in charge of military procurement, and earns an annual salary of about Sh3.2 million ($32,000), according to the report.
“The transactions recorded include more than $700,000 in cash deposits and large payments from several international construction companies operating in South Sudan,” the report says.
“Additionally, over this four-year period, $1.16 million in cash was withdrawn from the account.”
Gen Gabriel Jok Riak, an army field commander subject to United Nations financial sanctions, received transfers of at least Sh37 million ($367,000) to his personal account at Kenya Commercial Bank in 2014, the report says.
It notes that Gen Jok Riak is paid a government salary of about $35,000 a year.
A large share of the transfers to Gen Jok Riak came from Dalbit International, a Kenyan multinational petroleum corporation operating in South Sudan, the report says.
Dalbit told Sentry investigators that its transfer of Sh31 million ($308,524) was reimbursement for a fuel supply deal with the South Sudan army that had fallen through.
“This was neither a business transaction nor relationship between Dalbit and the General,” the company is quoted in the report as saying.
Some transactions for Gen Jok Riak “were apparently processed even after he became subject to a United Nations-imposed asset freeze in March 2015”, the report states.
“When presented with the information obtained by The Sentry, KCB did not reply to requests for comment”, the report adds.
“The hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments from multinational oil and construction companies that apparently passed through the accounts of Gen Malek Reuben Riak and Gen Gabriel Jok Riak raise serious questions; whether they know it or not, companies that make payments to those responsible for looting and killing in South Sudan play an integral part in facilitating the violent kleptocracy,” The Sentry states.
“The banks that processed the transactions, meanwhile, also play a role. These banks, either wittingly or unwittingly, have facilitated the apparent ability of government officials to divert significant sums that could be used to benefit some of the poorest people in the world.”
The Sentry, sponsored by the Washington-based Enough Project and two other NGOs, suggests that South Sudan’s civil war is mainly a product of “competition for the grand prize — control over state assets and the country’s abundant natural resources — between rival kleptocratic networks led by President Kiir and Vice President Machar”.
The Sentry’s report adds: “The leaders of South Sudan’s warring parties manipulate and exploit ethnic divisions in order to drum up support for a conflict that serves the interests only of the top leaders of these two kleptocratic networks and, ultimately, the international facilitators whose services the networks utilize and on which they rely.”