Corrupt officials in grossly impoverished South Sudan have stolen an estimated $4 billion from the world’s newest nation, President Salva Kiir has said, in an appeal for funds to be returned.
“Many people in South Sudan are suffering and yet some government officials simply care about themselves. The credibility of our government is on the line,” Kiir said in a letter seen by AFP Monday.
“An estimated $4 billion are unaccounted for or, simply put, stolen by current and former officials, as well as corrupt individuals with close ties to government officials.”
The letter, dated May 3, was sent to “75 former and current senior government officials in an effort to recover stolen funds,” according to an accompanying order from Kiir’s office.
The World Bank warned last month of its “deep concern” at Juba’s struggling economy, which is locked in a bitter border dispute with former civil war foes Sudan, which it split from last July.
In January, the oil-rich but poverty-stricken South shut down the oil production that formed 98 percent of its revenue in a bitter disagreement over crude transit fees with Khartoum, and after Sudan began seizing the oil in lieu of payment.
Kiir’s letter did not specify over what period the missing money was stolen, but he said that the majority had “been taken out of the country and deposited in foreign accounts.”
“I am writing to encourage you to return these stolen funds (full or partial)” Kiir wrote in his appeal, although he also noted that some corrupt officials had bought property abroad “often paid in cash.”
Letters were also sent earlier this year to the heads of state of eight nations in Africa, Middle East, Europe and to the United States to help in the recovery of the missing cash.
South Sudan broke away from Sudan last July after a 2005 peace deal ended one of Africa’s longest civil wars, which killed about two million people.
But tensions soon flared again over a series of unresolved issues, including the border, the future of disputed territories and oil.
As a result of independence, landlocked South Sudan took with it about 75 percent of the formerly united Sudan’s oil production, worth billions of dollars.
“We fought for freedom justice and equality,” Kiir added, about the decades-long war against Khartoum. “Yet, once we got to power, we forgot what we fought for and began to enrich ourselves at the expense of our people.”