by Ambrose Carey
With Sudan’s coup leaders intent on clinging to power, some in opposition circles believe that at least part of their reluctance to step down stems from the prospect of losing control of substantial business interests and being investigated for corruption.
Under deposed president Omar al-Bashir, the former ruling National Congress Party (NCP), the army, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF aka Janjaweed), and the intelligence services are said to have gained significant stakes in the economy. Many regime loyalists are believed to have enriched themselves, allegedly using funds to buy land and property in Sudan and abroad, primarily in the Gulf and Southeast Asia.
Members of the increasingly oppressive Transitional Military Council (TMC) and its allies in the armed forces are acutely aware that, under a democratic civilian government, some of them could face prosecution not only for crimes committed against opposition supporters in recent weeks but also their alleged corrupt practices over the course of Bashir’s rule.
Financial justice is high on the agenda of opposition representatives. If and when they form a government, they will likely seek greater transparency over state finances and recover assets and funds that have been looted in order to help rebuild the country and signal that such criminality will no longer be tolerated.
Yet, with financial and military backing from the Saudis and Emiratis, the TMC seems set to continue to resist a transition to democracy and break the back of the opposition through violence in a barely-concealed counter-revolution. The TMC’s scrapping of all previous agreements with the opposition and its call for snap elections could see the NCP return to office and restore the previous regime.
Last week, the opposition agreed to end a campaign of civil disobedience and resume talks with the TMC, which may indicate the weakness of the protest movement.
Although the TMC’s violence towards the opposition has made the headlines, less widely reported has been its thwarting of attempts by Sudanese journalists to investigate and expose rampant corruption under the Bashir government. During the brief window between the regime falling and the TMC consolidating power, normally rigid state censorship was not enforced. Sudanese journalists, who have long known about the suspected financial excesses of the Sudanese elites, took the opportunity to publish exposes that they previously kept under wraps.
A flurry of scandals appeared in the press. These included the alleged abuse of millions of euros worth of bank credit lines earmarked for agricultural projects that were diverted to a UK-based company and the alleged use of millions of dollars of funds from a company majority-owned by the state to pay kickbacks to political figures, including two persons close to African leaders. But once the censor was re-established under the authority of military intelligence, the investigative reports abruptly stopped.
Instead, despite official rhetoric about wanting to clamp down on corruption and hold transgressors to account, the TMC is pursuing cases very selectively, focusing on those it has fallen out with and settling old scores. Even an investigation into the discovery of a small fortune in foreign currency and Sudanese pounds at Bashir’s home appears to be losing momentum. Last week, he was charged with corruption, though this looks like a ploy by the TMC to deflect attention away from themselves.
The TMC doesn’t want to put the former regime under any degree of financial scrutiny because that would likely threaten both the economic control wielded by the RSF, the army, and security services and the corrupt practices many are believed to be engaged in.
The army’s business activities range from car-making to arms production, while the intelligence services have huge agricultural interests. Both also own consumer goods companies and are said to have “entrenched” themselves in several Sudanese banks. The RSF, meanwhile, effectively finances itself through protection services and gold mining, with much of the ore said to be exported to Dubai.
Many regime loyalists are suspected of investing ill-gotten gains in large estates in Sudan and in residential property in Dubai and Malaysia. It is hard to estimate the value of the reported looted assets. A civilian government may in time be able to seize some of the proceeds of corruption held in Sudan. But those secreted abroad will require both complex investigations to locate and a willingness on the part of the countries holding stolen funds to repatriate them. Precedent suggests that neither will be easy.
Ambrose Carey is a director of Alaco, a London-based business intelligence consultancy.