, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 13 – The United States is now urging authorities in Kenya to investigate property owned by elite families from South Sudan, with focus on President Salva Kiir and his former Vice President Riek Machar.
US Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker said several individuals, some on their sanctions list have continued to heavily invest illicit money in Kenya’s real estate and the banking sectors.
“We believe that it is imperative that we stand up for the poor and the innocent, women and young children who are being victimised,” she said.
She asserted, “I want to be very clear, those who profit from human rights violations and corruption, preying on the poor and the innocent mothers and children must heed our warning, we will impose consequences, we will cut off your access to the US financial system and we will work with our partners in this region and elsewhere to do the same.”
Names of individuals targeted and the property they own are contained in a report issued by The Sentry boss John Prendergast, which has previously compiled hard-hitting reports from their extensive research on war crimes proceeds.
Mandelker on Wednesday told a news conference in Nairobi that she has also held a meeting with top government officials and bank executives on the need for them to watch out against money laundered from South Sudan.
But what are their demands to Kenya’s financial sector?
The US wants the financial sector to “harden systems and the internal control and keep these actors from abusing your system and continuing to profit through access to the international financial system.”
“Those who profit off from the backs of the people who are devastated through human rights abuses will no longer have access to the international financial system because we will block that access, kick them out and we will work together to eliminate such despicable profiteering,” she cautioned.
She specifically wants Kenya to deny entry to individuals on the US sanction list, besides freezing property or bank accounts of those involved.
The US, she revealed, has already issued “financial advisories” to a wide range of institutions they want seal loopholes that can be used by senior corrupt political figures may be used to hide their loot.
This includes a number of ‘red’ flags to the institutions and sanctions to people either directly involved or not.
“We are running out of patience and we are very committed to taking any action that we need to use our economic leverage for good,” she said.
– What is in the report? –
The report by The Sentry lists Kenya and Uganda as preferred destinations of the South Sudan elites involved in the almost a decade-long violence that has left thousands dead and many others displaced.
“The Kenyan real estate and banking sector are critically important get away cards for the South Sudanese ruining machine,” Prendergast, The Sentry boss said.
He noted that Kenya represents a key entry point into the international financial system for the South Sudanese elites.
“New financial pressures would disrupt the lifestyle of any South Sudanese officials found to have engaged in corruption, as well as that of their families to bend these officials personal incentives toward peace and an end to the devastating war. 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,” Prendergast said.
For the ongoing peace efforts to bear fruit, which Kenya continues to play a great role, he said such property should be seized saying that “would be a critical step toward accountability for the systematic looting and mass atrocities committed since the country’s independence in 2011.”
Both President Kiir and rebel leader Machar own property in Kenya according to The Sentry report – this includes several top generals.
The value of these properties, the report reads, exceeds what these officials could afford on their salaries alone.
Currently, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga has been mandated to renew the peace efforts that have stalled a couple of times.
He has so far met both leaders.