Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has allegedly siphoned as much as US$9 billion out of his impoverished country and much of it may be stashed in London banks, according to conversations between US officials and the chief prosecutor of the international criminal court and recounted in secret US diplomatic cables.
Some of the funds may be held by the UK’s part-nationalized Lloyds Banking Group, according to International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who told US officials it was time to go public with the scale of Bashir’s theft to turn Sudanese public opinion against him.
“Ocampo suggested if Bashir’s stash of money were disclosed (he put the figure at US$9 billion), it would change Sudanese public opinion from him being a ‘crusader’ to that of a thief,” one report by a senior US official states.
“Ocampo reported Lloyds bank in London may be holding or knowledgeable of the whereabouts of his money,” the cable says. “Ocampo suggested exposing Bashir had illegal accounts would be enough to turn the Sudanese against him.”
Lloyds responded by saying it had no evidence of holding funds in Bashir’s name.
“We have absolutely no evidence to suggest there is any connection between Lloyds Banking Group and Mr Bashir. The group’s policy is to abide by the legal and regulatory obligations in all jurisdictions in which we operate,” it said.
Details of the allegations emerge in the latest batch of leaked embassy cables released by WikiLeaks, which also revealed that diplomats believe judges in the war crimes trial of the Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor have been deliberately causing delays to ensure the only African judge is presiding when the verdict is delivered.
If Ocampo’s claim about Bashir’s fortune is correct, Sudanese funds being held in London banks amount to one tenth of annual GDP in Sudan, which ranks fifteenth from the bottom in the UN’s index of the world’s poorest countries. Ocampo discussed evidence of the money with the Americans just days after issuing an arrest warrant for the Sudanese president in March last year, the first issued by the court against a serving head of state.
Bashir was indicted for seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity last year with a further three counts of genocide added in July. Ocampo, who has never released details of the alleged funds, was severely criticized for the indictment by many in Sudan and internationally amid criticisms the move would inflame fighting in the southern Darfur region.
Despite the humanitarian crisis in Sudan, Bashir has remained popular among many people in the country, particularly those who have benefited from the oil boom. A spokesperson for the Sudanese government dismissed the claim, describing it as further evidence of the ICC’s political agenda in discrediting the Sudanese government.
“To claim that the president can control the treasury and take money to put into his own accounts is ludicrous — it is a laughable claim by the ICC prosecutor,” said Khalid al-Mubarak, government spokesperson at the Sudanese embassy in London. “Ocampo is a maverick, and this is just part of his political agenda. He has failed miserably in all his cases and has refused to investigate Iraq or Gaza — he needs success and he has targeted Bashir to increase his own importance.”