JUBA: A new report has placed Kenya at the centre of illicit financial flows involving South Sudan warlords and politicians.
According to Nation, the report , Kenya Illicit Finance Risks and Assessment, details how politicians in South Sudan purchased luxury properties in Kenya, set up joint business ventures with Kenyan partners and used local banks to transfer money from one country to another.
The report was compiled by The Sentry, a US investigative and policy organisation that follows dirty money connected to African war criminals and transnational war profiteers and aims to shut them out of the international financial system.
It says warlords in South Sudan have been fuelling conflict in their country and stashing wealth in Nairobi.
In one case, the family of a South Sudanese general who is subject to US sanctions due to his involvement in mass violence against civilians paid $1.5 million in cash for property in Nairobi.
The property is listed under the name of one of his wives.
“The Sentry has obtained documents indicating that millions of dollars in questionable payments linked to top South Sudanese officials have transited through Kenyan banks,” the report says
“In one instance, a South Sudanese Politically Exposed Person (PEP) purchased a luxury home using a US dollar denominated account held at the Ugandan branch of the Kenyan bank. This occurred during a period of intense fighting involving a non-state militia that was funded and supported by the PEP’s office.”
In September, an anti-corruption court in Nairobi lifted a freeze order on two bank accounts, one of them dollar-denominated, belonging to South Sudan minister of cabinet affairs Elia Lomuro. They had been frozen in June on claims of money laundering and fuelling violence.
The decision came after the Assets Recovery Authority (ARA) told the court that it had been satisfied with the minister’s explanation that the money came from his salary and rental income.
The accounts contained Sh13.42 million and ARA had sought to seize.
A supporting affidavit by an ARA investigator showed that the dollar account had received $351,317.81 as credit, out of which $351,293.52 was debited between September 2017 and January 2020.
“On December 24, 2019, the respondent instructed the bank to close down his dollar account and send the funds to his local account,” the affidavit added.
Lomuro had in December 2019 been sanctioned by the US alongside his defence counterpart Kuol Manyang Juuk on allegations of fuelling violence in their country for his own personal enrichment.
The Sentry said it identified a property belonging to a senior military official linked to violent land grabs, ethnic conflict and corruption scandals. The group also cites yet another official as having procured a luxurious house in Nairobi whose value does not match his modest salary.
The report also notes that members of several South Sudanese high-ranking government officials reside in one particular upscale neighbourhood in Nairobi and their children attend local private schools.
In 2016, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir acknowledged the trend, saying that some government officials “have bought apartments, have bought very beautiful houses, villas. They are hiding it in Kenya and they refuse to reveal it”.
“The Sentry’s reporting has identified Kenya as the largest foreign investor in the South Sudanese banking sector. South Sudan heavily relied upon Kenya for financial services during the war and this close relationship has continued with Kenya acting as a significant export partner to South Sudan,” the report states.
Kiir-Uhuru strained relationship
In July 2021,South Sudanese President Salva Kiir recounted the moment that strained his relationship with President Uhuru Kenyatta after an abortive coup in South Sudan in 2013.
Speaking to Citizen TV news anchor Jeff Koinange on Wednesday, July 7, Salva Kiir detailed that his government had intended to charge the political detainees in order to uncover their role in the coup.
He, however, affirmed that he didn’t take too kindly to Uhuru’s intervention.
“I’m not happy with Kenya because, after the coup in 2013, President Uhuru took the lead stating that he was coming to take the leaders that I had apprehended during the coup.
“I told him, my brother, I cannot give you these people because they have to answer to the charges in order to uncover the role they played in the coup, but Uhuru intervened affirming that he wouldn’t allow them to serve a political sentence,” he stated.
According to Kiir, he was perplexed to see Uhuru receive the detainees on a red carpet when they arrived in Kenya- pointing out that the suspects were given preferential treatment at a time they should be facing charges.
“I wondered if I had rejected what he (Uhuru) told me, what would he have to say?” he posed.
The South Sudanese leader stated that he confronted Uhuru on the matter, to which the Head of State defended his actions.
“I told Uhuru that what he did was not good, and it was not what we agreed on with him. He stated that he thought he was doing the right thing,” Kiir pointed out.
Kiir also revealed that seven years ago opposition leaders in Juba deceived the Kenyan government when it offered them political refuge after the country plunged into war.
He at the time claimed there had been a plot to remove him from power and started a series of arrests of politicians in the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) accused of wanting him out.
“President Uhuru is leading his country but he thinks [that] by appeasing the rebels in my country, that may pay him back good.
“These people projected themselves as leaders of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and that they were the people who fought the war. It was not true,” said Kiir, referring to the country’s independence war with Sudan, which had lasted 21 years before the country attained self-rule in 2005, and independence in July 2011
The failed coup in 2013 caused chaos in the war-stricken country which recently celebrated ten years after independence.
The two leaders have in the recent past advocated for peace and stability in both countries. This has seen Uhuru offer his support towards the peace initiatives developed by the country.
“I commend my brother President Salva Kiir and people of South Sudan for the positive steps they have taken to ensure the transition period begins on a firm foundation,” Uhuru stated during Kiir’s visit to Kenya in September 2020.
Despite the remarks, Kenya and South Sudan enjoy good relations, with President Kiir being invited to the 2019 national prayer breakfast.
Kenyans working in South Sudan have, however, witnessed hostility there.
In May, four Kenyan long-distance cargo truck drivers and two loaders were kidnapped by unknown gunmen at Terekeka town in South Sudan.
The kidnappers demanded 15 million South Sudan pounds (about Sh4.8 million) in exchange for the freedom of the captives.
In April this year, the Kenya Transporters Association warned all foreign truckers planning to drive to South Sudan against using Juba-Nimule/Yei highway due to the insecurity along the major roads.
Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the attack against Kenyan truck drivers operating on the Juba-Namule Road had resulted in several fatalities and multiple injuries.