Sudanese authorities have begun to recover billions of dollars of real estate illegally amassed by deposed dictator Omar al-Bashir’s regime, but other assets will be difficult to seize, experts say.
“Initial estimates indicate that the real estate and properties owned by the former regime… range (in value) from $3.5 to $4 billion,” said Salah Manaa, a spokesman for a committee tasked with fighting corruption and dismantling the old regime.
“This is only the tip of the iceberg”, in terms of the total assets illicitly accumulated and hidden under Bashir’s rule, Manaa told AFP.
Bashir ruled Sudan with an iron fist for 30 years but was overthrown in April last year by the military during mass protests against him.
He has already been sentenced to two years detention in one corruption case — involving illegal possession of foreign currency — and is being held in Khartoum’s Kober prison, on a range of other charges.
The new anti-graft committee began work in December and is answerable to a power-sharing government of civilians and generals that was established in August.
– ‘Truckloads’ of documents –
Less than six months into its mandate, that committee is perusing a monumental paper trail on the former regime’s assets.
“The committee received large volumes of documents that filled three trucks,” said a source close to the committee, who requested anonymity. “Each will be rigorously scrutinised.”
The investigators have so far recovered hotels, farms, shopping centres, agricultural lands and other properties in Khartoum and other cities from the ex-leader’s relatives and aides.
Manaa said international experts will be brought in to help assess the assets’ value — a task that has not yet moved beyond guesstimates — before transferring their ownership to the finance ministry.
“The former regime’s corruption was extensive and diverse,” said Osman Mirghani, a Sudanese analyst and editor-in-chief of Al Tayyar newspaper.
He believes that Bashir’s circle hid some assets “with skill, which would require time and expertise (for authorities) to uncover”.
One challenge facing the committee is the cash held by former regime members in banks.
“The money is kept in banks governed by strict laws prohibiting its availability to anyone other than the depositors,” said Sudanese economist Mohamed al-Nayyer.
But some of the more easily recoverable assets could raise funds to support the country’s ailing economy.
“The real estate properties can be offered in public auctions and firms can be converted to joint-stock companies … which will spur investment,” said Nayyer.
Sudan has long suffered daunting economic challenges ranging from decades-long US sanctions to the 2011 secession of oil-rich South Sudan.
While the US lifted sanctions towards the end of Bashir’s rule, Sudan remains on Washington’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, deterring investment.
The country also remains in deep economic crisis, suffering an acute shortage of foreign currency and soaring inflation, which reached around 99 percent in April.
Alongside the domestic charges, Bashir remains indicted by the International Criminal Court on long-standing charges including genocide over the conflict in the Darfur provinces, and the transitional administration has indicated it could hand him over to face trial.