SUDAN: President Bashir accused of amassing billions in illicit wealth
Sudan denied allegations Saturday by an international prosecutor that President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, who is wanted for crimes against humanity, has stolen about $9 billion from one of Africa’s poorest countries.
In a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, said if the breadth of Bashir’s wealth became known, it would “destroy his reputation” among the Sudanese, many of whom support the president’s defiance of the West.
“Ocampo suggested if Bashir’s stash of money were disclosed (he put the figure at possible $9 billion), it would change Sudanese public opinion from him being a ‘crusader’ to that of a thief,” according to the March 2009 document outlining the prosecutor's meeting with American officials.
These accusations are “just propaganda -- Ocampo using false information to create political pressure," Rabie Abdelati, a senior member of Bashir's ruling National Congress Party, told Reuters. "I don't think President Bashir has a bank account in Europe or America or the Arab world. If President Bashir had a bank account in his name or another name it would be very easy for them to confiscate it.”
Abdelati added: "We are challenging them to say where the money is kept. If they can find this account then we give them license to take the money inside it as a prize."
Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity stemming from sectarian fighting in the Sudan’s western Darfur region. About 300,000 people have died in the conflict there in recent years from fighting, disease and hunger.
The president, who came to power in a bloodless coup in 1989, is viewed by many in Africa and the Middle East as being unfairly targeted by an international court that advances U.S. and Western agendas. The war crimes charges have limited Bashir’s ability to travel abroad and highlighted the president’s political predicament ahead of a crucial test on the nation’s future.
The mostly Christian and animist south is expected to vote on Jan. 9 to break away from Bashir’s predominantly Muslim north to become an independent state. The referendum is part of a peace treaty that ended a 21-year-old civil that killed more than 2 million people. Eighty percent of the nation’s oil output originates in the south, but Basjih has relied on the revenue for years to fund economic development projects in the north.
-- Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo
Photo: President Bashir. Credit: AFP / Getty Images