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Fueling Atrocities

South Sudan’s leaders use the country’s oil wealth to get rich and terrorize civilians, according to documents reviewed by The Sentry. The records reviewed by The Sentry describe who is financially benefiting from the conflict itself. Little has been known about the financial machinery that makes South Sudan’s continuing war possible, but these documents appear to shed new light on how the country’s main revenue source—oil—is used to fuel militias and ongoing atrocities, and how a small clique continues to get richer while the majority of South Sudanese suffer or flee their homeland.

Documents reviewed by The Sentry purport to describe how funds from South Sudan’s state oil company, Nile Petroleum Corporation (Nilepet), helped fund militias responsible for horrific acts of violence. They also indicate that millions of dollars were paid to several companies partially owned by family members of top officials responsible for funding government-aligned militia or military commanders.*

One key document, part of a collection of material provided to The Sentry by an anonymous source, appears to be an internal log kept by South Sudan’s Ministry of Petroleum and Mining detailing security-related payments made by Nilepet. The document titled, “Security Expenses Summary from Nilepet as from March 2014 to Date” (“the Summary”) lists a total of 84 transactions spanning a 15-month period beginning in March 2014 and ending in June 2015. In total, the document lists over $80 million in payments to politicians, military officials, government agencies, and private companies, many of which include captions that describe activities directly linked to the government’s war effort. Other documents reviewed by The Sentry include copies of correspondence that describe the petroleum ministry’s provision of fuel and other supplies to Padang Dinka militia groups.

South Sudan became the world’s newest country in 2011, but a civil war that broke out in December 2013 has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and has left more than 4 million people displaced, internally and externally. The proximate trigger of the civil war was a dispute between President Salva Kiir and then-Vice President Riek Machar. However, the key catalyst of South Sudan’s civil war has been competition for control over state assets and the country’s abundant natural resources. A peace deal to halt fighting between warring factions has stalled, and the United Nations has warned that nearly two-thirds of the country will need food aid to keep from starving. And while the conflict has had dire economic consequences for most of South Sudan’s population, many of the top officials responsible for the war in the first place have accrued enormous wealth and have families living luxurious lifestyles outside the country.

South Sudan’s oil revenue management practices—and in particular those of Nilepet—have long been criticized by a wide range of civil society groups and international organizations, such as the South Sudanese Law Society, the International Monetary Fund, and the U.N. Panel of Experts. The new documents reviewed by The Sentry shine a spotlight into those murky practices and appear to explain how top officials used Nilepet funds to support a group of Padang Dinka militias implicated in widespread attacks and other atrocities.

Key Information Contained in the Documents

  • More than $80 million was recorded as paid to South Sudanese politicians, military officials, government agencies, and companies owned by politicians and members of their families who were, according to the Summary, paid for services such as military transport and logistics to forces implicated in atrocities.
  • South Sudan’s petroleum ministry assisted in the provision of food, fuel, satellite phone airtime and money to a group of militias in Upper Nile state, according to the Summary. The militias are reportedly responsible for destroying villages and attacks against civilians, including a February 2016 attack against civilians at a U.N. site in Malakal that left dozens dead.
  • Interstate Airways, partially owned by South Sudan First Lady Mary Ayen Mayardit, reportedly received six payments beginning in April 2014 for army logistics and transportation of military hardware.
  • Crown Auto Trade, owned by Obac William Olawo, a prominent South Sudanese businessman, is listed in the Summary as having received $8 million in payments from Nilepet in 2014 alone for activities ranging from supplying vehicles to importing armored personnel carriers and transporting tanks and supplies.
  • Nile Basin for Aviation, a little-known airline owned by family members of top military and government officials—including the wife of former military chief of staff Paul Malong and a nephew of then-petroleum minister and current Minister of Finance and Planning Stephen Dhieu Dau—is identified in the Summary as receiving payments from Nilepet in early 2015 for military logistics operations.

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