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South Sudan Government Dismisses Clooney Corruption Report


FILE - South Sudan's then-First Vice President Riek Machar (L) and President Salva Kiir (R) shake hands following the first meeting of a new transitional coalition government, in the capital Juba, South Sudan, April 29, 2016.

FILE - South Sudan's then-First Vice President Riek Machar (L) and President Salva Kiir (R) shake hands following the first meeting of a new transitional coalition government, in the capital Juba, South Sudan, April 29, 2016.

A spokesman for South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir, has dismissed the findings of a report that accuses Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar of amassing huge wealth while millions of South Sudanese go without food.

Spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said Tuesday that the report, from a Washington-based advocacy group called The Sentry, is "rubbish" and "a lie." He said the report is meant to undermine Kiir and tarnish his image.

"The Sentry report is a political report because it contains a lot of nonsensical conclusions about the corruption in South Sudan, and it can only be used as a recipe for regime change for those who are running behind to change the regime," he told VOA in Juba.

The spokesman denied allegations in the report that Kiir and some of his generals, including army chief of staff Paul Malong, have used the nearly three-year-old conflict in South Sudan to make money.

Ateny also dismissed allegations that Kiir used state resources to provide a luxurious life for family members.

He says the president's legal advisers are examining the report.

FILE - Actors George Clooney, right, and Don Cheadle, left, arrive for a press conference to discuss an investigation about corruption in South Sudan at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Sept. 12, 2016.

FILE - Actors George Clooney, right, and Don Cheadle, left, arrive for a press conference to discuss an investigation about corruption in South Sudan at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Sept. 12, 2016.

"Most probably they will advise for legal challenge to the report," he said. "We will hire a legal firm in the United States of America to pursue this in the courts of law."

Years-long investigation

The report was based on a two-year investigation by a group founded by Hollywood star George Clooney and human rights activist John Prendergast. It says Kiir and Machar profited from contracts related to arms purchases, oil sales and shares of companies operating in South Sudan.

The report alleges that former vice president Machar — Kiir's rival in South Sudan's civil war — owns luxurious houses in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

James Gatdet, Machar's spokesman, says Machar neither owns a house in Nairobi nor Addis Ababa.

"He was accommodated by the authority of Ethiopia during the peace talks. So he did not own that house,” Gatdet told VOA. “For the report to come out and implicate him about that particular house in Addis is not true because it is not his property, he doesn't own it, and he has not bought it. He was simply accommodated."

Gatdet admits that the former vice president was renting a luxury house in Nairobi.

"The family should not be expected to rent a house in a slum area in Nairobi,” he said. “The family of a vice president should live in a … secure place."

Gatdet says Machar's family has moved out of the Nairobi house — whose picture appeared in the report — because Machar has no money to pay the rent.

The spokesman praised the release of the report, saying the findings can be used against individuals who have committed crimes against South Sudan.

"it is commendable because this can be used as future reference for cases like this once things have settled. And people who have committed such crimes — whether economic, war crimes — it can be thrown to justice," he said.

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