A US-based team of financial forensic specialists is criticising the Kenyan government for not investigating South Sudan leaders' purchases of luxury homes in Nairobi.
The Sentry, a non-governmental investigative unit, noted on Tuesday that in 2016 its analysts had publicly identified high-priced properties in both Kenya and Uganda acquired by South Sudanese involved in a civil war that has killed tens of thousands and pushed millions out of the country or to the brink of starvation.
These homes in exclusive Nairobi and Kampala neighbourhoods may have been bought with the proceeds of corruption, The Sentry said two years ago and repeated on Tuesday.
“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 NGO asked.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir owns a family home in Nairobi's upscale Lavington neighbourhood, as does South Sudan rebel chief Riek Machar, The Sentry says.
Paul Malong, former chief of staff of the South Sudan army, maintains a $2 million mansion in the gated Nyari Estate, the group adds, noting that Mr Malong was paid about $45,000 a year in his military leadership position.
Mr Malong, who led an army accused of massive human rights violations, also owns two luxury homes in Uganda, The Sentry states.
The group's contention that Kenyan and Ugandan authorities have failed to investigate possibly corrupt international dealings coincides with a visit to both countries this week by a US Treasury Department official who heads a financial intelligence unit.
Sigal Mandelker, a Treasury under-secretary, is urging officials in Nairobi and Kampala to close loopholes that allow transfer of illicit funds from South Sudan.
“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,” John Prendergast, co-founder of The Sentry, said on Tuesday.
“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 do have the legal tools needed to investigate the suspect real-estate transactions and, if warranted, to seize those properties, The Sentry says.
The group notes 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 freezing assets and imposing other sanctions on six South Sudanese leaders accused of blocking progress toward ending the country' ruinous four-year civil war.
The US has previously sanctioned other South Sudanese said to be responsible for large-scale human right abuses.
The United Nations Security Council is also weighing actions to punish South Sudanese viewed as prolonging the civil war.