Omar al-Bashir. Picture: REUTERS/MOHAMED NURELDIN ABDALLAH
Omar al-Bashir. Picture: REUTERS/MOHAMED NURELDIN ABDALLAH

Khartoum — Sudanese authorities have begun to recover billions of dollars of real estate amassed illegally 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 $4bn,” said Salah Manaa, a spokesperson for a committee 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, said Manaa.

Bashir ruled Sudan with an iron fist for 30 years, but the military overthrew him in April last year during mass protests against him.

He has been sentenced to two years 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 antigraft committee began work in December, and answers to a power-sharing government of civilians and generals established in August.

Less than six months into its mandate, the committee is following 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 former leader’s relatives and aides.

Manaa said international experts would be brought in to help assess the assets’ value — a task that has not yet moved beyond rough estimates — 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 said he believed 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 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 about 99% in April.

Apart from the domestic charges, Bashir remains indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on long-standing charges including genocide in conflict in the Darfur provinces. The transitional administration has indicated it could hand him over to face trial.

Reuters reported late last week that the public prosecution service had said at least three jailed senior members of the toppled regime had contracted Covid-19.

The Arab African country, which has reported 4,146 coronavirus cases and 184 deaths, released more than 4,000 prisoners in March to curb the spread of the disease in jails. But political sensitivities mean that all those jailed for offences committed as part of the fallen regime remain in custody.

They include Ahmed Haroun and Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein, both wanted by the ICC for alleged crimes in Sudan’s Darfur region.

Haroun was a senior Bashir aide while Hussein served as defence and interior minister. Ali Osman Taha, a former vice-president, was also infected. All three were under health quarantine in Khartoum hospitals.

Bashir, scores of politicians close to him and members of his family, were detained after the uprising on charges including corruption and violence.

Covid-19 tests on two other detainees including Ali al-Bashir, a brother of the former president, came back negative, though they were quarantined as a precautionary measure.

Tests results were still awaited on two other suspected cases, the prosecution service said. All other detained members of the former regime had refused to be tested for coronavirus.

Earlier in May, Sudan, which has a weak health system, extended lockdown in the state of Khartoum by two weeks to slow the spread of the virus.

AFP/Reuters