South Sudan's first lady Mary Ayen Mayardit and Stephen Dhieu Dau, the country's finance minister, have been identified in a new report as individuals fueling and profiting from violence in South Sudan.
The Sentry, an investigative initiative co-founded by actor George Clooney and human rights activist John Prendergast, released the report Monday. It charges that top South Sudan officials were paid millions of dollars for services to the South Sudan army.
The Sentry's special investigations director, J.R. Mailey, said there was evidence that Interstate Airways, an airline company partly owned by the first lady, received six payments beginning in April 2014 for army logistics and transportation of military hardware.
He noted that Ajak Wol Atak, wife of former Sudan People's Liberation Army chief of staff Paul Malong, had also received payment for services in support of the military.
The Sentry reported that $80 million was paid to politicians, military officials, government agencies and private companies associated with top government officials during 84 transactions from March 2014 to June 2015.
Michael Makuei, the South Sudan government spokesman and information minister, told VOA on Tuesday that the contents of the report were untrue.
The Enough Project, a U.S.-based nonprofit that conducts research on several conflict areas in Africa and facilitates The Sentry, "is an organization which was set up in order to tarnish the image of the president and his family, the government and the people of South Sudan," Makuei said. "This is what [U.S. President Donald] Trump refers to as fake lies or fake news."
Mailey said some activities described by The Sentry occurred while Dau was the minister of petroleum. "His office coordinated the supply of food, fuel and other equipment to Padang Dinka militias in Upper Nile state at a time when those militias were responsible for attacks against civilians," he said.
The Sentry said the Small Arms Survey, a Geneva nongovernmental organization, reported that this group of militias targeted the Shilluk ethnic group, burned down villages and engaged in widespread attacks against civilians, including a February 2016 attack on a U.N. Protection of Civilians (PoC) site in Malakal that resulted in dozens of deaths.
According to The Sentry, Crown Auto Trade, a Toyota dealership owned by Obac William Olawo, a prominent South Sudanese businessman, received over $8 million in payments from the Nile Petroleum Corporation in 2014 alone, for activities ranging from supplying vehicles to importing armored personnel carriers and transporting tanks and supplies.
Mailey said the international community should exert financial pressure on individuals or groups responsible for atrocities in South Sudan, map the entire network that is responsible for violence or atrocities or diverting revenues, and place sanctions on the whole network.
"In this case, we are seeing Stephen Dhieu Dau as being well-informed. And according to the report of the U.N. panel of experts, [he] is responsible for sponsoring militias. You can't just go after the decision-makers, you should go after networks responsible for those decisions,'' Mailey said.
Call for sanctions
Mailey said targeted sanctions could break the network of groups benefiting from the spoils of fighting in South Sudan.
"In a few countries around the world, the United States has placed sectoral sanctions on the oil sector, particularly in Venezuela or Russia, in a way that hasn't harmed average citizens," he said.
Mailey said banks and financial regulators should step up efforts to halt the flow of illicit funds out of South Sudan.
"All the banks that are doing business in South Sudan should really step up their due diligence efforts," Mailey said. "They should make sure that they [the banks] are compliant with any money-laundering regulations."
In September 2017, the U.S. Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network issued an advisory focusing on the risks of money laundering connected to the government of South Sudan. Twenty-five other financial intelligence units in the European Union, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia said they would follow suit with alerts and other appropriate warnings.