Kenya, Uganda urged to seize assets of South Sudan warlords

Wednesday June 13 2018

A combo photo of South Sudan President Salva

A combo photo of South Sudan President Salva Kiir (left) and the leader of South Sudan’s largest rebel group and former Vice-President Riek Machar. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By KEVIN J KELLEY
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A Washington-based watchdog has criticised Kenyan and Ugandan governments for failing to investigate South Sudanese leaders' purchases of luxury homes in Nairobi and Kampala respectively.

A team of financial forensic experts from The Sentry — a watchdog body co-founded by Hollywood actor George Clooney and rights activist John Prendergast — noted on Tuesday that in 2016 its analysts publicly identified high-priced properties in both Kenya and Uganda acquired by South Sudan's political and military elite involved in the civil war that has killed tens of thousands and displaced about four million others.

The luxury homes in upscale neighbourhoods in Nairobi and Kampala may have been bought with the proceeds of corruption, The Sentry said.

“What will it take for Kenyan and Ugandan officials to investigate and then seize houses and other assets determined to be the proceeds of corruption in order to apply desperately needed pressure on South Sudan’s peace spoilers?” the watchdog posed.

President Salva Kiir owns a family home in Nairobi’s upmarket Lavington as does his nemesis rebel chief Riek Machar, according to The Sentry.

Former army chief Paul Malong maintains a $2 million mansion in the wealthy Nyari Estate in Nairobi, the group adds, stating that Gen Malong was paid about $45,000 a year in his military position.

General Malong also owns two luxury homes in Uganda, The Sentry notes.

International dealings

The watchdog's concern comes at a time a top United States official is visiting East and central Africa to discuss the illicit financial flows from South Sudan.

Sigal Mandelker, the Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, has urged authorities in Nairobi and Kampala to tighten their financial systems to detect and disrupt illicit financial flows from Juba.

“We hope Under Secretary Mandelker’s engagement with Kenyan authorities and banks will spark official inquiries into real estate purchased by South Sudanese officials potentially to hide unexplained wealth obtained in the context of war,” Mr Prendergast, said.

“Investigating, and if appropriate, seizing these homes would provide tremendous leverage for the peace process, and would be a critical step toward accountability for the systematic looting and mass atrocities committed since the country’s independence in 2011.”

Kenya and Uganda have the legal tools needed to investigate the suspect real-estate transactions and, if warranted, to seize those properties, The Sentry added.

Seizure

The group says that information it had provided led Australian authorities to initiate the seizure, earlier this year, of a Melbourne home owned by former South Sudanese Gen James Hoth Mai.

The Sentry is urging the Kenyan government to “follow Australia’s model to investigate unexplained wealth.”

“With support from NGOs, domestic banks and US law enforcement, Kenya — East Africa’s banking capital and home to a large South Sudanese diaspora — is well-placed to take the lead in pursuing potentially corrupt assets,” The Sentry adds.

The Trump administration recently proposed assets freeze and other sanctions on six South Sudanese leaders accused of delaying efforts to end the country' ruinous four-year civil war.

The US has previously sanctioned other South Sudanese officials said to be responsible for massive human right abuses and violations.

The United Nations Security Council is also weighing actions to punish leaders viewed as prolonging the civil war.

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