South Sudan’s leaders have transferred millions of dollars of ill-gotten wealth outside the country while waging a civil war that has left nearly half the country’s people homeless or in urgent need of humanitarian aid, an anti-corruption group said Monday.
The watchdog group was founded by Hollywood actor George Clooney and John Prendergast, a former official in the Clinton administration.
President Salva Kiir and some his top associates, along with Riek Machar, the country’s former vice president, have invested millions of dollars in real estate in Kenya, Uganda and Australia, according to a report by the Sentry, which investigates corruption and organized crime in Africa, following a two-year probe.
According to the report, these powerful political figures and their immediate relatives have large ownership interests in local oil, construction, security and gambling businesses—in violation of South Sudanese law barring officeholders from engaging in commercial activity.
The report accuses the two leaders of perpetuating conflict in South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, to amass personal wealth.
“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,” it says.
A spokesman for Mr. Kiir didn’t immediately reply to calls and messages requesting comment. A spokesman for Mr. Machar said he would study the report and respond to it later.
Messrs. Clooney and Prendergast said Monday they would meet with U.S. President Barack Obama, State Secretary John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to present the investigation and lobby for the use of antiterrorism and anti-money-laundering rules to seize the South Sudanese leaders’ assets.
Mr. Kiir’s presidential salary is about $60,000 annually. Mr. Machar drew a government salary $54,000 annually until he was ousted in July after the collapse of a power-sharing agreement. He is now in neighboring Sudan.
Foreign donors sponsored South Sudan’s independence declaration in 2011 and have supplied billions of dollars in aid since the two political rivals pitted their tribes and armies against each other nearly three years ago, with the U.S. topping the list with $1.6 billion in assistance.
The conflict has cost thousands of lives since.
About 1.6 million of South Sudan’s 12 million people have been forced to flee their homes, and some 5.2 million are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, including food, according to the United Nations.
The report’s allegations are particularly striking in view of the rapid deterioration of humanitarian conditions in the country after the recent violence in the capital, Juba.
On a recent afternoon at a U.N. camp there, 30-year-old Nunia Jido was trying to feed her six-month-old baby clinging to her left breast, but no milk came.
“If I am not eating, if I am hungry, how can I feed him,” she despaired, trying—and failing—with the other breast.
The mother of seven is one of more than 37,000 people, most of them ethnic Nuers, the tribe of the ousted vice president, Mr. Machar, who are living between two camps in Juba in woeful conditions.
The World Food Program, which hopes to feed three million South Sudanese this year, is struggling to deliver enough food, and the latest civilians who sought safety in the camps during the violence in July aren’t yet being distributed food.
Ms. Jido is forced to go outside the camp with other women to buy a few staples and get firewood to cook, but the short trip to the market and back is extremely dangerous.
Since July, army soldiers have raped hundreds of women attempting the simple errand on the short strip of road, according to the U.N. and eyewitnesses.
“When we went to the market two days ago, they [the government soldiers] called for us and told us to stop,” Ms. Jido said. “But I am lucky because I ran. Other women couldn’t and they were raped.”
Asked why she wouldn’t send her husband to buy staples outside the camp, Mr. Jido laughed. “They would kill him because he is Nuer,” she said. “I prefer to get raped instead.”
The U.N. and the U.S. have imposed financial sanctions against six South Sudanese senior military commanders from both regular government forces and fighters loyal to Mr. Machar.
But The Sentry’s two-year investigation found that one of the six men under U.N. and U.S. sanctions was still able to make financial transactions worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Sentry’s investigation also found that children of the South Sudanese leaders are living abroad, playing crucial roles in their families’ financial networks and documenting their lavish styles on social media, posting selfies with top-line luxury cars and photos of their homes’ swimming pools.
The report alleges that the 12-year-old son of Mr. Kiir holds a 25% interest in a holding company. His identification documents list his occupation as “Son of President.”
In Juba, Ms. Jido said neither Mr. Kiir nor Mr. Machar could help her and her seven children by stopping the war. “Their children don’t live here, they don’t care,” she said.