Ashraf Seed Ahmed Hussein Ali has mastered the art of doing business in a state riddled with corruption. Since 2006, this Sudanese businessman widely known as Al-Cardinal has exploited opaque procurement processes, weak oversight institutions and cozy relationships with Juba’s most powerful politicians to line his own pockets. He has been embroiled in major procurement scandals, set up private businesses with ruthless military generals, imported military equipment during a bloody civil war and even scored lucrative contracts linked to the implementation of the peace deal. Along the way, he has established a global network of companies and business partners—and has purchased expensive real estate abroad, from London to Dubai.
Without concerted pressure from the international community, Al-Cardinal will remain a major enabler of corruption and violence for President Salva Kiir’s government.
- Alleged procurement fraud. As a preferred partner of South Sudan’s government, Al-Cardinal has received hundreds of millions of dollars in suspect contracts. His companies have been implicated in multiple procurement scandals, from an inflated Toyota contract in 2006 to an opaque tractor deal in 2015, and yet faced no significant punitive measures.
- Doing business with generals. In January 2016, Al-Cardinal formed a company alongside the then-chief of staff of the South Sudanese army, General Paul Malong Awan, who likely violated South Sudanese law by participating in this partnership.
- Importing military equipment. At the height of South Sudan’s civil war in 2014, Al-Cardinal’s Green for Logistics Services LLC imported 180 GAZ-34039 armored vehicles from Russia. The South Sudanese military deployed these vehicles in the months that followed as part of a deadly campaign in Upper Nile and Unity states where pro-government forces targeted civilians in 2015.
- Opaque government payments. In 2017, South Sudan’s government committed to pay Al-Cardinal more than three million barrels in crude oil for the company’s provision of undisclosed goods and services. The following year, it agreed to pay the company $299 million for similarly ambiguous services.
- A global network. Since its Khartoum office opened on Baladia Street in 2005, Al-Cardinal’s network has reportedly expanded to Ethiopia, Djibouti, Dubai, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Major deficiencies in transparency and accountability frameworks have facilitated exploitation by predatory foreign investors and South Sudan’s ruling clique.
- Crucial information concealed from the public. Opaque deals have undermined key accountability mechanisms and facilitated corruption. South Sudan’s government has disclosed little about the hundreds of millions of dollars it has granted Al-Cardinal’s companies through contracts, or about his mining license payments. The absence of a register listing the beneficial owners of companies in South Sudan hides potential conflicts of interest from public view.
- Oversight institutions obstructed and underfunded. Efforts to investigate potential misconduct have faced multiple obstacles. South Sudan’s auditor general reported missing documentation vital to conducting a thorough inquiry of the Toyota contract scandal, the police chief leading a related probe was dismissed in a seemingly illegal move and journalists attempting to cover the dubious tractor procurement deal reported being intimidated by National Security Service members.
- Conflicts of interest. South Sudanese government representatives and senior military officials sidestep laws designed to prevent conflicts of interest—including prohibitions on senior officials’ ownership of private companies while in office. Ambiguities in certain constitutional provisions allow individuals involved in military procurement to form businesses alongside senior members of the military while avoiding public scrutiny.
The following measures, if implemented, would hold kleptocrats accountable and encourage good governance in South Sudan as well as stem the type of conduct described in this report:
- Investigate and, if appropriate, place Ashraf Seed Ahmed Hussein under sanctions along with his network of companies and associates. This investigation of Al-Cardinal has identified conduct consistent with sanctions designations criteria under US Executive Order 13664 (South Sudan) and US Executive Order 13818 (Global Magnitsky). Al-Cardinal has long been involved in military procurement, and been implicated in acts of corruption involving South Sudanese officials at the highest levels of government. The US Treasury Department should investigate Al-Cardinal’s activities and, if appropriate, place him under sanctions, along with his network of companies and associates.
- Launch an independent audit conducted by an impartial international organization. The international community and the finance sector must dedicate resources to tracing, seizing and repatriating the billions of dollars looted from the people of South Sudan, an effort likely to take years. As part of the country’s transition, the government should seek assistance from the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (formed by the World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) to investigate corruption. External experts free from political interference could thus investigate financial crimes and then cooperate with local authorities as appropriate.
- Prioritize Institutional Reform. South Sudanese authorities must create clear benchmarks for institutional reform that outline progress during specified periods. These standards should focus on appointing credible leaders at these institutions, as well as creating arm’s-length funding—where buyers and sellers act independently without influencing each other—and oversight mechanisms. The international community, both bilateral donor governments and multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, should work with South Sudanese authorities on these benchmarks, help ensure compliance and make any assistance conditional on meeting these norms.