Kenya has rejected fresh pressure from the United States to seize the properties of South Sudanese leaders that were allegedly bought with proceeds from corruption, money laundering and war profits.
Officials from Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs say the country is happy to share intelligence with the US on illicit money flows from South Sudan, but it must first establish mechanisms for verifying the reports provided by Washington DC.
Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau said Kenya is capable of seizing properties from illicit proceeds but will only act within the context of international practices through the United Nations conventions and the Bretton Woods institutions.
“Kenya knows its obligations in regards to corruption and money laundering, and is working closely with the international community on the same. However, we work with multilateral platforms and don’t take instructions from other sovereign states,” Mr Kamau said.
Nairobi last week came under pressure from the Trump administration —keen on ending the war in South Sudan — to investigate and seize the wealth of South Sudanese leaders who allegedly invest illicit money in the country’s real estate.
The Trump administration has come up with what it calls “network sanctions,” in which the leaders’ families and their commercial networks will be targeted, and Kenya and Uganda are expected to get involved.
US Undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department, Sigal Mandelker, visited Uganda and Kenya and said that the two countries must seize proceeds of corruption from South Sudan’s war.
“Those who profit from human rights violations, corruption and preying on the poor, children and mothers are warned. We will impose consequences, cut off your access to the US financial systems, and we will work with our partners in this region and elsewhere to do the same,” Ms Mandelker said.
“The message to the regional financial sector is similar. It is imperative that you work on internal controls to keep the actors from abusing your systems and continuing to profit through access to international financial systems,” she added.
THE SENTRY REPORT
Ms Mandelker, who also visited the Democratic Republic of Congo, was accompanied by John Prendergast, a member of The Sentry, which in 2016 released a report how President Salva Kiir, former vice-president Dr Riek Machar and several top military officials looted the country and acquired property all over the world.
In Kenya and Uganda, Ms Mandelker met government officials in the ministries of finance and foreign affairs, and the banking fraternity, including governors of the central banks.
The US says it is concerned that no action has been taken despite The Sentry report that identified properties in Nairobi and Kampala belonging to South Sudanese top leaders.
Mr Kamau said that Kenya would resist illicit money flowing through its financial system. He added that US should not suggest they are on higher pedestal.
“The oversight provided by the Central Bank of Kenya and Treasury is world class. Kenya has invested billions of dollars in South Sudan, and the county cannot afford lose it be by tolerating illicit financial flows,” he said.
In its 2016 report, The Sentry cited former head of the army, Gen Paul Malong, who earns an annual salary of $45,000 (Sh4.5m), but maintains a $2 million (Sh200m) mansion in Nairobi.
South Sudan Chief of general staff Gen Gabrial Jok Riak — who has also been sanctioned by the UN for war crimes — is said to own a home in Kampala and have more than $300,000 (Sh30m) in his bank account despite his modest army salary.
This article was first published in The EastAfrican on June 16, 2018.