Some of them started off as privates in the early 1980s, during the outbreak of the 21-year civil war. With time and experience, they climbed the military power ladder, making them household names.
They include Oyay Deng Ajak, Gabriel Jok Riak, James Hoth Mai, and Paul Malong – each of whom held the position of army chief of staff between 2005 and May 2020.
Others are Salva Mathok, Marial Chanuong, Johnson Juma Okot (current CDF), Bol Akot, Gathoth Gatkuoth Hothnyang, Johnson Olony, Garang Mabil, and David Yau Yau.
Despite the little pay in the army, the leaders – according to a report by an anti-corruption campaign group – have illegally amassed wealth over the years.
The investigative report by The Sentry suggests that the military big names have been using the conflict to get rich, as they encouraged starving soldiers to choose patriotism over salary.
Making a Killing: South Sudanese Military Leaders’ Wealth, Explained, looks at the commercial and financial activities of the aforementioned leaders who linked to major instances of violence both before and during the civil war.
“Documents reviewed by The Sentry indicate that they exploited their positions of power to empty the state’s coffers and weaken its institutions with little accountability for this corruption or for the human rights violations they perpetrated,” partly reads the report issued on May 27, 2020.
Being politically exposed persons or PEPs (the laws of the land do not allow constitutional post holders to run personal businesses), the leaders use close allies and children, including minors to run business activities.
“Many of these men share personal or commercial ties with President Salva Kiir, who regularly intervenes in legal proceedings targeting his staunchest friends and allies,” it continues.
Kiir himself has been named in several reports as one of the leaders who have stolen millions of dollars from public coffers.
He reportedly uses his family members and friends to run multi-billion dollar businesses in and out of the country.
The report found that lack of oversight and limited transparency in the security sector help the men to steal from public coffers.
Among other recommendations, it asks the international community to sustain network sanctions, improve anti-money laundering measures and asset seizure and recovery efforts, and increase domestic and international investigations to stem the flow of the proceeds of corruption out of South Sudan.
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