In Sudan, traced Bashir regime assets ‘tip of iceberg’

Omar Bashir. (AP)
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Updated 01 June 2020

In Sudan, traced Bashir regime assets ‘tip of iceberg’

  • The investigators have so far recovered hotels, farms, shopping centers, agricultural lands and other properties in Khartoum and other cities from the ex-leader’s relatives and aides

KHARTOUM: Sudanese authorities have begun to recover billions of dollars of real estate illegally amassed by deposed ruler Omar Bashir’s regime, but other assets will be difficult to seize, experts say.
“Initial estimates indicate that the real estate and properties owned by the former regime ... range (in value) from $3.5 to $4 billion,” said Salah Manaa, a spokesman for a committee tasked with fighting corruption and dismantling the old regime.
“This is only the tip of the iceberg,” in terms of the total assets illicitly accumulated and hidden under Bashir’s rule, Manaa told AFP.
Bashir ruled Sudan with an iron fist for 30 years, but was overthrown in April last year by the military during mass protests against him.
He has already been sentenced to two years detention in one corruption case — involving illegal possession of foreign currency — and is being held in Khartoum’s Kober Prison, on a range of other charges.
The new anti-graft committee began work in December and is answerable to a power-sharing government of civilians and generals that was established in August.
Less than six months into its mandate, that committee is perusing a monumental paper trail on the former regime’s assets.
“The committee received large volumes of documents that filled three trucks,” said a source close to the committee, who requested anonymity. “Each will be rigorously scrutinized.”
The investigators have so far recovered hotels, farms, shopping centers, agricultural lands and other properties in Khartoum and other cities from the ex-leader’s relatives and aides.

SPEEDREAD

The new anti-graft committee began work in December and is answerable to a power-sharing government of civilians and generals that was established in August.

Manaa said international experts will be brought in to help assess the assets’ value — a task that has not yet moved beyond guesstimates — before transferring their ownership to the finance ministry.
“The former regime’s corruption was extensive and diverse,” said Osman Mirghani, a Sudanese analyst and editor in chief of Al-Tayyar newspaper.
He believes that Bashir’s circle hid some assets “with skill, which would require time and expertise (for authorities) to uncover.” One challenge facing the committee is the cash held by former regime members in banks. “The money is kept in banks governed by strict laws prohibiting its availability to anyone other than the depositors,” said Sudanese economist Mohamed Al-Nayyer.  But some of the more easily recoverable assets could raise funds to support the country’s ailing economy.
“The real estate properties can be offered in public auctions and firms can be converted to joint-stock companies ... which will spur investment,” said Nayyer.
Sudan has long suffered daunting economic challenges ranging from decades-long US sanctions to the 2011 secession of oil-rich South Sudan.
While the US lifted sanctions toward the end of Bashir’s rule, Sudan remains on Washington’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, deterring investment.
The country also remains in deep economic crisis, suffering an acute shortage of foreign currency and soaring inflation, which reached around 99 percent in April.
Alongside the domestic charges, Bashir remains indicted by the International Criminal Court on long-standing charges including genocide over the conflict in the Darfur provinces, and the transitional administration has indicated it could hand him over to face trial.


US contractor told Lebanese port official of chemicals risk

Updated 12 August 2020

US contractor told Lebanese port official of chemicals risk

  • Concerns about the ammonium nitrate were known within the Lebanese government before the deadly blast
  • The thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored in the warehouse for more than six years

WASHINGTON: About four years before the Beirut port explosion that killed dozens of people and injured thousands, a US government contractor expressed concern to a Lebanese port official about unsafe storage there of the volatile chemicals that fueled last week’s devastating blast, American officials said Tuesday.
There is no indication the contractor communicated his concerns to anyone in the US government.
His assessment was noted briefly in a four-page State Department cable first reported by The New York Times.
The cable, labeled sensitive but unclassified, dealt largely with the Lebanese responses to the blast and the origins and disposition of the ammonium nitrate, which ignited to create an enormous explosion. But it also noted that after the Aug. 4 explosion, a person who had advised the Lebanese navy under a US Army contract from 2013 to 2016 told the State Department that he had “conducted a port facility inspection on security measures during which he reported to port officials on the unsafe storage of ammonium nitrate.”
Concerns about the ammonium nitrate were known within the Lebanese government before the deadly blast, officials said.
The contractor, who was not identified by name and is now a State Department employee based in Ukraine, was in Lebanon to provide instruction to members of the Lebanese navy. While there, he made a brief, impromptu inspection of physical security at the facility in 2015 or 2016 at the request of a port official, US officials said. The contractor was not identified.
The contractor, who has a background in port and maritime security, noted weaknesses in security camera coverage and other aspects of port management but was not assessing safety issues, according to the US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of a planned public statement.
While inside the warehouse where ammonium nitrate was stored, the contractor saw problems such as poor ventilation and inadequate physical security, which he noted to the port official accompanying him, the officials said. It is unclear whether the port official reported this concern to his superiors.
The thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored in the warehouse for more than six years, apparently with the knowledge of top political and security officials. The catastrophic explosion one week ago Tuesday killed at least 171 peoples and plunged Lebanon into a deeper political crisis.
The contractor was working for the US Army’s Security Assistance Training Management Organization, headquartered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He provided instruction to members of the Lebanese armed forces in naval vessel traffic systems and small boat operations. His class was visiting the Beirut port as part of that instruction program when the port official asked him for the inspection, which US officials said lasted about 45 minutes.
The United States has a close security relationship with Lebanon. According to the State Department, the US government has provided Lebanon with more than $1.7 billion in security assistance since 2006. The assistance is designed to support the Lebanese armed forces’ ability to secure the country’s borders, counter internal threats, and defend national territory.
Last September a US Navy ship, the guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage, visited Beirut. It was the first time in 36 years an American warship had made a port visit there, according to the US military at the time.