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South Sudan arrests minister of finance over corruption

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March 26, 2007 (NAIROBI) — South Sudan’s finance and economic planning minister is under house arrest as President Salva Kiir cracks a whip on corruption.

Arthur Akuien Chol was stopped from traveling to the unity capital, Khartoum, and placed under house arrest on March 17, to pave way for a graft inquiry involving the procurement of some 300 vehicles for the Government of South Sudan (GOSS).

The cars meant for the police and other government departments, including use by top government officials, were reportedly heavily priced beyond market prices.

Ambassador John Andruga Duku, South Sudan’s representative in Kenya, confirmed to Business Week of the arrest.

"I can confirm to you that the minister of finance is under house arrest and his immunity has been withdrawn," Duku said.

But he emphasized that the arrest was not a declaration of guilt but a means of allowing a free investigation into the case.

In January two undersecretaries in Chol’s ministry were sacked after government questioned the acquisition of Toyota Land Cruiser vehicles at a staggering fee of US$95,000 per vehicle.

The cars were purchased from Saudi Arabia by Al Cardinal, a Khartoum based company, whose chief executive is now under arrest in Juba pending conclusion of investigations.

Inside sources revealed that the cost of each vehicle was US$50,000 and Al Cardinal had quoted US$60,000 for each car.

The rest of the money is said to have been pocketed by government officials.

The arrest is the first high profile crack down on what analysts say are rising cases of corruption in the semi-autonomous nation.

A committee headed by information minister, Samsom Kwaje, was formed in February to investigate cases of corruption including the January 9 claim by President Omar El Bashir that some US$60 million had been misappropriated by South Sudan’s officials.

On February 13, Salva Kiir made a pledge that he would institute an investigation into allegations of rising corruption in the country.

During the recently ended investment conference for South Sudan held in Nairobi, corruption was highlighted as one of the challenges that would impact negatively on the young state’s efforts to attract foreign investment.

"A well functioning private sector, so necessary for sustainable development, requires a transparent and fair business environment," Ambassador Kent Degerfelt, the head of the European Union delegation in Sudan advised during the conference.

(East African Business Week)

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