- President Salva Kiir attends a session during the 25th Extraordinary Summit of the (IGAD) on South Sudan in Addis Ababa March 13, 2014 (Reuters Photo)
October 15, 2021 (WASHINGTON)- South Sudan awarded contracts worth up to $4 billion to sanctioned businessmen with direct links and business ties to President Salva Kiir, a move that is likely to cast down on the South Sudanese leader’s commitment to ensure accountability and fight corruption in the young nation.
In a new report, The Sentry, an investigative arm of The Enough Project, identified Kur Ajing Ater, an in-law to Kiir and Benjamin Bol Mel, a business partner to the South Sudanese leader as having obtained contracts for companies they control.
“In South Sudan, a new Sentry investigation has uncovered over $4 billion in government contracts awarded to companies that appear to be controlled by US-sanctioned businessmen Kur Ajing Ater and Benjamin Bol Mel. In a well-worn tactic for sanctions evasion, the awarded companies were registered after the men’s sanction designations and seem to be owned by their relatives who can serve as proxies while potentially bypassing internal compliance controls at banks,” said John Prendergast, a co-founder of The Sentry.n
“This scheme could enable Ajing and Bol Mel, both part of President Salva Kiir’s inner circle, to still be the likely beneficial owners of the companies and continue conducting business in USD despite the US sanctions against them”, he added.
The report, entitled, “Sanctioned South Sudanese Businessmen Are Skirting US Sanctions” offers evidence of large-scale corruption, points to the influence of the businessmen with links to the president.
The advocacy group argued that the way contracts were awarded to the sanctioned businessmen makes it likely that officials knew of their alleged beneficial ownership because some of the contracts were no-bid.
The investigation highlights the need for the government to enforce the laws and for financial institutions to ramp up their due diligence and compliance systems.
It urges the US government to work with South Sudan to help build strong corporate transparency, oversight, and accountability mechanisms, in addition to taking more direct action related to the findings of this investigation. The actions of those in power, according to Sentry, undermine stability as they are hell-bent on nothing but a desire to enrich themselves by selling out the future of the country.
“As today’s alert illustrates, those in power in South Sudan continue to line their pockets, undermine stability, and sell out the country’s future. The awarding of billions of dollars in potentially no-bid contracts to companies that appear to be controlled by sanctioned persons close to the president is just one more documented instance of corruption, which is a key driver of conflict and political crises in the country”, explained Prendergast.
Debra LaPrevotte, Senior Investigator at The Sentry, said the awarding of lucrative government contracts to companies beneficially owned by sanctioned individuals is a sad indication of the Kiir regime’s lack of interest in fighting corruption.
“The activities detailed in our recent investigation further expose the unchecked looting of the country’s wealth and resources, as those in power continue to line their pockets, undermine stability, and sell out South Sudan’s future,” she added.
The Sentry, however, recommends that the US Treasury Department should investigate and, if appropriate, impose sanctions on the individuals and entities named in this report.
It further urged the US to amend the South Sudan and Global Magnitsky Executive Orders to include a provision on immediate family members of sanctioned individuals.