December 18, 2010 (NAIROBI) – Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al-Bashir has squirreled away billions of dollars into personal bank accounts overseas, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) claimed - according to a leaked US report.
- Sudan President Omar al-Bashir (FILE – Getty Images)
A US diplomatic cable published by the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks has revealed that the chief prosecutor at the ICC, Louis Moreno-Ocampo, told US diplomats on March 20, 2009 that president Al-Bashir had siphoned off as much as 9 billion US dollars into foreign bank accounts.
The ICC has issued two warrants for the arrest of Al-Bashir on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide allegedly committed in Sudan’s western region of Darfur, where a seven-year conflict between Al-Bashir’s regime and rebels fighting against perceived neglect of the region has killed 300,000 people and displaced more than 2 million, according to UN figures.
Al-Bashir denies the charges and denigrates them as a Western plot to overthrow him. The Sudanese government also maintains that the number of those who died in Darfur stands at only 10,000.
Confirming the information contained in the leaked cable, Ocampo told Reuters on Saturday that investigations carried out by his office had shown that Al-Bashir is holding a fortune of up to 9 billion US dollars.
"I am investigating the financial aspects and we have information about Bashir’s money. I can confirm that it is up to $9 billion," Ocampo declared.
In the leaked cable, Ocampo told the US diplomats that exposing those accounts would turn the Sudanese public opinion against Al-Bashir, changing his image from “a crusader to that of a thief.”
The leaked cable quoted Ocampo as suggesting that the London-based Lloyd’s Bank “might be holding or knowledgeable of the whereabouts of his money."
Quoted by Reuters on Saturday, a spokesman for Loyds has strongly denied the prosecutor’s claims, stating the bank had no evidence of any connection with Al-Bashir and that it is the bank’s policy “to abide by the legal and regulatory obligations in all jurisdictions in which we operate."
Ocampo himself on Saturday denied that Al-Bashir’s money was in the custody of Loyds Bank, saying that his leaked statements were based on the fact that the bank holds accounts of some Sudanese officials. "The money is not in Lloyds, the connection is that they (Lloyds) have some official accounts with the government of Sudan," he told Reuters.
In January 2009, the bank was forced to forfeit 350 million US dollars to the US Administration to settle an investigation which proved that it had altered wire transfer information to enable clients from Sudan and Iran to do business transactions in the US banking system.
The leaked cable disclosed that Ocampo had urged the US administration and the international community to push for the arrest of Al-Bashir to isolate him.
According to the cable, the ICC prosecutor suggested that increasing pressure on Al-Bashir could spur power-hungry members of his own party to get rid of him, likening his situation to "a bleeding shark being surrounded by other sharks."
In the leaked cable, Ocampo opined that reassuring China that its oil interests in Sudan would not be compromised by a potential successor of Al-Bashir could make it more open to his removal.
The leaked cable also cited thoughts by Ocampo that Al-Bashir was using expulsion of NGOs to deflect attention from his arrest warrant.
In the wake of issuing the first arrest warrant for him in March 2005, Al-Bashir responded by expelling 13 international NGOs, accusing them of spying for the court.
Sudan says accusations targets Al-Bashir’s image
Sudan has sought to discredit Ocamp’s accusations, saying that their aim is to tarnish Al-Bashir’s image among his countrymen.
The country’s official news agency SUNA quoted the minister of media Kamal Obaiyd as saying that the Wikileaks cable had debunked Ocampo and proved that he receives orders from politicians and had nothing to do with legal and professional manner.
He said that the amount of money he accused Al-Bashir of stealing is too huge to believe and that there is no such amount in the state’s coffers.
The minister also said that the cable had demonstrated the extent to which the US department of state and its collaborators in attempts to target the image of Sudan and President Al-Bashir.
Reuters quoted another Sudanese official as suggesting that it is impossible for Al-Bashir to hold bank accounts in a western country due to US economic sanctions.
"Sudan is heavily sanctioned. There is a lot of surveillance around Sudan. How could President Bashir put this amount in a Western bank?"
Sudan has been under US economic sanctions since 1997 over alleged human rights abuses and sponsorship of terrorism. The sanctions were tightened under President Bush administration in 2007 over the conflict in Darfur.