A new investigative report released by The Sentry, ‘Making a fortune while making a Famine’ reveals documents that indicate a top South Sudanese army general has amassed and offshored millions of dollars through an array of questionable business enterprises while the country suffers from devastating war and famine.
The focus of The Sentry’s investigation, Lieutenant General Malek Reuben Riak, promoted on May 24, 2017 to Deputy Chief of Defense Staff and Inspector General of the Army, has been identified by the UN as one of those responsible for the violence that helped spark civil war and the resulting famine. Documents reviewed by the Sentry indicate that the general, whose official duties include weapons procurement and military logistics, has engaged in an array of lucrative side businesses in mining, engineering, construction, energy, and explosives. The documents revealed in The Sentry report indicate that the South Sudan army (SPLA) has directed foreign companies to purchase explosives from a private company owned by Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak.
The report calls for the US and other governments to more effectively use the tools of financial pressure—specifically network sanctions like asset freezes targeting a network of individuals and entities, rather than a single person) and anti-money laundering measures—to impose consequences on any and all South Sudanese officials, senior military officers and their networks who have gotten rich while nearly half the country’s population, an estimated 7.5 million people, face starvation and are in urgent need of assistance.
John Prendergast, co-founder of The Sentry and Founding Director at the Enough Project, said: “The documents revealed in The Sentry report concerning Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak illustrate a broader pattern in South Sudan in which powerful officials work closely together in a relatively small network and preside over the country’s violent kleptocratic system of government. The documents indicate that, by using international facilitators, these officials can get rich while the rest of the country suffers the consequences of a brutal civil war and a horrific famine. Network sanctions should be imposed on Lt. General Reuben Riak, his companies, and his associates, in order to send a strong message to the South Sudan government that business as usual is no longer acceptable, and going forward there will be steep and escalating consequences.”
J R Mailey, Senior Investigations Manager at The Sentry and Senior Policy Analyst at the Enough Project, said: “Today, top generals responsible for South Sudan’s famine are promoted and rewarded, rather than held to account. Meanwhile, the documents described in The Sentry report indicate that many of these same military officials are involved in questionable business transactions in the very same sectors they are meant to safeguard from corruption. Action is needed to alter the incentive structures of those responsible for atrocities, famine, and continued conflict in South Sudan. Without consequences, we have no reason to believe that the highly lucrative but destructive conduct illustrated in the documents will change.”
- Documents revealed by The Sentry indicate that Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak has used international banks to move millions of US dollars and to conduct business with international investors. Foreign governments—especially the U.S. government—are in a position to curb his ability to access the international financial system.
- Documents indicate that Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak controls a private business called Mak International Services that sells explosives to private companies operating in South Sudan—an arrangement that, the documents suggest, has been not only endorsed but also promoted on an exclusive basis by the military in which he holds a key leadership role.
- Documents indicate that Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak sits, along with several other senior generals, on the board of a holding company that has joint ventures with foreign investors and appears to be active in South Sudan’s mining and construction sectors.
- Documents also indicate that Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak’s family members appear to be representing his interests on several commercial ventures, often alongside the family members of other senior government officials in South Sudan.
- Documents show that Lt. Gen. Reuben Riak and members of his family jointly own businesses with members of the political elite in neighboring Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda.
- Ensuring that financial institutions are effectively blocking illicit transfers is in the national security interest of the United States and other countries, as the same loopholes that allow kleptocrats to move their ill-gotten gains through US banks also empower terrorists, traffickers, organized crime syndicates, and other bad actors.