South Sudan officials have stolen $4 bln: president

Mon Jun 4, 2012 1:18pm GMT

By Hereward Holland

JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudanese officials have "stolen" an estimated $4 billion of public money and should return it to salvage the young nation's reputation and help lift its people out of poverty, the president said in a letter seen on Monday.

The request came as the central African country, which seceded from Sudan less than a year ago, is scrambling for cash to make up for the loss of almost all state revenues with the shutdown of its oil output in January.

Critics have accused the government of President Salva Kiir doing little to clamp down on widespread corruption that has hampered efforts to build the war-torn state from scratch and jumpstart development.

In a letter to 75 current and former officials dated May 3, Kiir offered amnesty for officials and individuals with government ties who returned the money.

"An estimated $4 billion are unaccounted for or, simply put, stolen by former and current officials, as well as corrupt individuals with close ties to government officials," Kiir said in the letter obtained by Reuters.

Reliable figures are hard to come by in South Sudan, but the figure could amount to around one third of the estimated total oil receipts allotted to the South between the 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war and independence last year.

"Most of these funds have been taken out of the country and deposited in foreign accounts. Some have purchased properties, often paid in cash," the letter said.

A senior South Sudan government official confirmed to Reuters that the letter was sent to current, former and deputy ministers in the last ten days.   Continued...

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, June 13, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer
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