Skip to main content

In this Friday, April 29, 2016 file photo, the then South Sudan's First Vice President Riek Machar, left, looks across at President Salva Kiir, right, as they sit to be photographed following the first meeting of a new transitional coalition government, in the capital Juba, South Sudan. A new report Monday, Sept. 12, 2016 by a U.S.-based watchdog group accuses South Sudan's rival leaders of amassing wealth abroad amid a conflict in which tens of thousands have been killed.Jason Patinkin/The Associated Press

While as many as 300,000 people have died in one of the world's most savage civil wars, corrupt profiteering has allowed the leaders of the two opposing sides to acquire vast wealth, including luxurious villas just a short drive apart in an upscale Nairobi neighbourhood, a new report says.

A two-year investigation by a U.S.-based watchdog group, The Sentry, has uncovered evidence that South Sudan's feuding President and former vice-president have exploited the country as a kleptocracy, stealing millions of dollars with the complicity of foreign bankers, lawyers, arms dealers and other businessmen.

Despite official annual salaries of $60,000 (U.S.) or less, President Salva Kiir and other top politicians and military officers have assembled lucrative business holdings and foreign property, the report says, allowing their families to enjoy lavish lifestyles of European travel, private schools, luxury cars and multiple foreign residences – even as South Sudan's people are dying from war and malnutrition.

These business dealings are so extensive that they even include Mr. Kiir's 12-year-old son, who is listed as a 25-per-cent shareholder in a South Sudanese holding company, says the report, released on Monday. On official documents, the boy's occupation is listed simply as "Son of President." Two of Mr. Kiir's older sons are shareholders in banks and other businesses, again listing their occupation as "Son of President," it says.

Western countries have provided billions of dollars in aid to South Sudan, which became independent five years ago. Canada gave $76.3-million to South Sudan in humanitarian and development aid in 2014, and it has also provided dozens of peacekeepers to the country in recent years.

Meanwhile, Canadian businessman Guerman Goutorov has sold more than 170 armoured vehicles to South Sudan, a United Nations report says. A report by another independent research group said the armoured vehicles have been seen in one of the country's most intense war zones.

The war in South Sudan, which erupted in December, 2013, between the factions of Mr. Kiir and vice-president Riek Machar, has been marked by atrocities, including massacres, gang rapes, the recruitment of child soldiers and the killing of an estimated 50,000 to 300,000 people. It has driven 2.3 million people from their homes and forced 5.1 million people – nearly half the population – to depend on food aid.

Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar have acquired expensive family villas near each other in the Nairobi neighbourhood of Lavington, according to the Sentry report.

It documented the lavish lifestyles of Mr. Kiir's children, who have attended private schools in Australia, Malaysia and other foreign countries. "One of his children posted photos and videos on social media showing a vacation throughout Europe with stops in Paris, Munich, Oslo and Milan," it says. "Social media accounts reveal several of the same children of the president and their friends riding jet skis, driving in luxury vehicles, partying on boats, clubbing and drinking in the Villa Rosa Kempinski – one of Nairobi's fanciest and most expensive hotels – all during South Sudan's current civil war."

The Sentry, an investigative group co-founded by actor George Clooney and former U.S. State Department official John Prendergast, concluded that South Sudan's top officials have made fortunes from the war.

"The key catalyst of South Sudan's civil war has been competition for the grand prize – control over state assets and the country's abundant natural resources – between rival kleptocratic networks led by President Kiir and vice-president Machar," says the report, released at a press conference in Washington attended by Mr. Clooney and other activists.

"The leaders of South Sudan's warring parties manipulate and exploit ethnic divisions to drum up support for a conflict that serves the interests only of the top leaders of these two kleptocratic networks and, ultimately, the international facilitators whose services the networks utilize."

It documented how one army commander, General Paul Malong, accumulated foreign property worth millions of dollars. His stepson, Lawrence Lual Malong Yor Jr., has boasted on social media of his extensive business dealings, often posting photos of himself on private jets with the caption: "Young tycoon enjoying first class."

The report's findings about South Sudanese officials are "explosive stuff," Mr. Clooney said. "We're able to prove, without any question, that not only are they committing these crimes, but they are profiting from it. We can't continue to look away. History is watching."

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe