JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN — South Sudan has set up a team to conduct a criminal probe into the five-year-old "dura saga," in which the government paid the equivalent of nearly $1 million for cereals which were never delivered.
“Today we are launching a very high-level committee to investigate the dura contracts," Minister of Legal Affairs John Luk Jok said. Dura is the South Sudanese name for sorghum, one of the grains involved in the scandal.
Luk Jok said the government paid the equivalent of nearly a million dollars to domestic contractors to supply food to state governments ahead of a projected famine in 2008.
But the food was never delivered, he said.
“Some scurrilous people used the opportunity to make what we can call now, or what has been alleged now, to be false claims or fraudulent claims on the government which involved huge sums of money,” he said.
World Bank auditors who were invited by South Sudan to probe the case in February found that 290 companies were paid without ever having signed contracts and another 151 were vastly overpaid.
The criminal probe will try to determine why the contractors were paid for goods that never showed up, or why they were paid too much and if any government officials or workers were involved in the swindle.
“Did they agree with the people paying, to overpay them so that they share the excess? Or what is the reason for overpayment?” Luk Jok said.
South Sudan has signed an extradition treaty with Ethiopia and expects to sign similar agreements with other neighboring states, lest any of the suspects in the case try to leave the country.
The investigative team will be led by South Sudan's Prosecutor General, Filberto Mayout Mareng. Other members of the team have been selected from the justice and interior ministries.