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Wanted Paraguay "fugitive" now involved in business dealings in South Sudan, says report


April 20, 2021 (WASHINGTON) - A "fugitive" who fled criminal charges and suspicions of terror financing in Paraguay, has reemerged in South Sudan with an altered identity and title of honorary consul, a new report revealed.

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A copy of Ali Khalil Merhi’s South Sudanese passport (The Sentry)

The report, released by The Sentry on Tuesday, details how Ali Khalil Merhi allegedly operates a thriving business empire while benefiting from corrupt connections and predatory operations within the world’s youngest nation.

Titled, “The Metamorphosis of Ali Khalil Merhi: How a One-Time Fugitive Found Fortune in South Sudan,” the investigative report reveals Merhi’s journey from Paraguay’s most notorious prison to South Sudan where he established connections to the President Salva Kiir and his inner circle.

His business activities, it says, include a mining deal with the president’s daughter and a series of suspicious payments to General Malek Reuben Riak, a top South Sudanese military official now under the United States, European Union and United Nations sanctions for corruption, torture, human rights abuses, and widespread violence and destruction.

"In 2000, Ali Khalil Merhi fled charges of counterfeiting, accusations of links to terror financing, and requests from Argentine prosecutors to question him about a deadly 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires. Two decades later, Merhi has reemerged—with a new spelling of his name and a new business empire,” said George Clooney, Co-Founder of The Sentry.

It accuses South Sudan of habouring Merhi for more than a decade, granting him citizenship, lucrative contracts and the honorary consul title.

John Prendergast, Co-Founder of The Sentry, said: "In South Sudan, the leaders of the country who have hijacked state institutions and undermined the rule of law for their own financial gain have enabled Ali Khalil Merhi to evade the consequences of his alleged misconduct for years. But governments, law enforcement agencies, and banks have the tools to change that.

He added, “By acting swiftly, they can build meaningful accountability for individuals like Merhi and send a message that South Sudan should not be a safe haven for international criminals and other corrupt operators."

The fugitive reportedly operates Skyline Contracting Co. Ltd; a South Sudanese company that was in 2009 approved by the UN to supply $2.23 million worth of construction materials to the UN procurement division.

J.R. Mailey, the Director of Investigations at The Sentry, said while Merhi’s journey from a prison cell in Paraguay to the corridors of power in Juba is nothing short of remarkable, his ascendance in South Sudan should not come as a surprise.

“This is the reality of business and politics in a state captured by a lethal criminal network. Merhi benefits from the same fundamental feature of South Sudanese politics as those at the helm of the country’s government – a prevailing environment of impunity,” stressed Mailey.

He added, “Without accountability and consequences for violence or predatory conduct, criminals will continue to dominate both politics and business in the world’s newest nation.”

Meanwhile, the report urged the US Department of the Treasury to investigate and, if appropriate, sanction Merhi and his network of companies, as well as his South Sudanese partners and other international facilitators.

It further appealed to South Sudan government to enforce its anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism laws.

South Sudan government was not immediately available to comment.


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