WASHINGTON- The funds, borrowed from Qatar National Bank and Kenya-based CfC Stanbic Bank, were offered to help South Sudanese traders import food, fuel and medicine.
Most of the nearly $1 billion dollar credit line, The Sentry alleges, ended up in neighboring Uganda, Kenya and Dubai in the form of assets and properties owned by South Sudan elites and their families.
For more on the Sentry’s latest report, VOA's John Tanza spoke with Debra LaPrevotte, senior investigator at the Sentry.
The interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
VOA: What were the findings of The Sentry's investigation?
LaPrevotte: South Sudan has been plagued by corruption scandal after corruption scandal after corruption scandal, and between 2012 and 2015, the government of South Sudan borrowed $993 million to be handed out in letters of credit to traders so that goods could be purchased and brought into the country. Medicine, food.. just essential goods.
And what The Sentry found out through three years of investigation is that the vast majority of that money walked out of the country without the product ever being delivered and the money was spread among those people involved.
VOA: Why are we only hearing about this now?
LaPrevotte: The reason you're hearing about it now is because it actually took three years to do the investigation. Nothing about this investigation was made public in South Sudan. The auditor general of South Sudan did a report on this and shared it with parliament in 2015. But the report was never made public.
The Sentry was able to get a copy of that report and then the center spent the last three years looking up and trying to find out who the shareholders were on a thousand companies that were given contracts.
And then what we found out also is that a great number of traders in South Sudan ran over to Kenya and Uganda and opened companies so that they appeared as the exporter on these loans and transactions. So it just it took years to find out who was behind all of these companies so that we would know who benefited.
VOA: There are people who have been mentioned in the report but for others only the companies have been named. Was that by design?
LaPrevotte: The report would be much longer if we mentioned everyone that is involved. So, we looked at the key figures and what we found out is that a great number of these contracts were awarded to people that were within President Kiir's regime including President Kiir's family, Kornelio Koriom’s family — that’s the former head of the central bank. People that had power and influence hijacked the letters of credit, and members of the military, and then a great number of foreign traders. Those were the main people that benefited from this scandal where we can find no proof of delivery.
VOA: The money is gone, and the people in power alleged to have stolen the money are still in power. So, when these reports come out, what is the intention?
LaPrevotte: Don't forget sometimes money doesn't go away, it just changes shape. So, when the money leaves it goes either into a bank account, into an investment account or becomes an apartment building or a vehicle or a villa.
And what we do know is that some of the people that are involved in this own multiple residences, so the money isn't gone it's just in another shape.
So, one of the things that we would strongly recommend is that Kenya and Uganda and Dubai work with law enforcement to try to identify these properties and seize them. I mean basically, we would love to see that these properties are seized, forfeited and the money's returned to South Sudan in such a way that it doesn't disappear again, but could do a great deal of good and do what it was supposed to do in the first place: provide food and medicines.
VOA: Talk to me about some of the best practices done elsewhere where corrupt leaders are held accountable and missing assets are returned to the people who are supposed to benefit from them.
LaPrevotte: Well, one of the things that South Sudan is supposed to be doing right now to comply with the peace deal is to install an international tribunal to investigate corruption and war crimes. And so what we would recommend is that Kenya has a new president; let's cooperate. And let's look at the properties that are being purchased by South Sudanese elites in your country.
Same thing, Museveni. Let's look at all of the illicit wealth that is coming out of South Sudan that is going into properties in Kenya and Uganda. The United States can help too.
The majority of this money left South Sudan in U.S. dollars, which means the United States would have venue to investigate as well. And so, we would hope that all of our foreign partners who would love to see a better future for South Sudan, work together to try to stop the illicit flows of money out of South Sudan.
And quite honestly the banks and Kenya and Uganda, they have. Around bank records — this was seven years ago — these records still exist. They should be filing suspicious activity reports and they should be working with investigators and prosecutors to see who profited, where the money is now and take it back.