GEORGE CLOONEY & THE SENTRY INVESTIGATE WAR ECONOMIES
For those of us living in peaceful, democratic countries, it’s nearly impossible to fathom an existence rooted in instability, fear, and extreme violence. Unfortunately, over the past two decades, this has been the reality for millions of people living in East and Central Africa.
For years, the people of Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and the Central African Republic have struggled to survive in the deadliest war zone in the world. At the mercy of ruthless and corrupt political and military elites, millions of innocent people have perished or have been displaced, while those in power hijack the states’ vast natural resources for their own personal gain.
This abuse of power is overwhelmingly apparent in South Sudan, where the country is being torn apart by a terrible civil war, fuelled by corruption. Due to the greed of a handful of people, tens of thousands of civilians have been murdered, entire cities destroyed, and nearly 2.5 million people driven away from their homes.
However, these illicit schemes wouldn’t be possible without the complicity of networks of facilitators outside the conflict zones. In pursuit of their own profits, international bankers, lawyers, real estate agents, and businessmen use legitimate systems of finance, trade, and transportation to support warring parties and launder the spoils of war.
To investigate, disrupt, and dismantle the networks benefitting from the violence in East and Central Africa, the non-profit organization, The Sentry, was formed. The Sentry is a team of policy analysts, regional experts, and financial forensic investigators that follows the money in order to create consequences for war profiteers, and to build leverage for peace.
Cofounded by George Clooney and John Prendergast, The Sentry strives to alter the incentive structure, so that war crimes don’t pay. Last year, after nearly two years of tracking the money funding South Sudan’s war economy, The Sentry released a ground-breaking report, titled “War Crimes Shouldn’t Pay: Stopping the Looting and Destruction of South Sudan.” On September 12, 2016, Clooney and Prendergast joined Don Cheadle and lead investigators at the National Press Club in Washington DC to present the details of this multi-country investigation. It’s long been known that President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar Teny command authority over the forces responsible for mass rape, child soldier recruitment, and massacres of civilians in South Sudan. However, this report provides irrefutable proof of these atrocities, as well as the many shady transactions, insider deals, and incidents of outright fraud, they, and several top army generals, have been involved in.
Dissecting the links between public corruption and armed conflict, the report exposes how South Sudan’s top officials have benefited both financially and politically from war and violence. While the South Sudanese people suffer, the families of these warmongering leaders live in the lap of luxury, enjoying multimillion dollar mansions outside the country, stays in five-star hotels, and expensive vehicles.3 Despite his modest government salary, President Kiir is the owner of several extravagant properties, including an elegant two-story villa — valued at $1,000,000. The Sentry also found that a number of Kiir’s relatives, including his wife, children and several powerful in-laws, have held interests in almost two dozen companies operating in oil, mining, construction, gambling, banking, foreign exchange, telecommunications, aviation, and government and military procurement.
In South Sudan today, war crimes pay. There is little accountability for the atrocities or looting of state resources. Since 2014, the US has given 1.5 billion dollars in aid to South Sudan; however, without addressing the core problem, we are throwing good money after bad. “The simple fact is, they’re stealing money to fund their militias and to attack and kill one another. The evidence is thorough, it is detailed, and it is irrefutable. It involves arms dealers, international lawyers, international banks, and international real estate,” said Clooney at the National Press Club in Washington DC.
The good news is that we have the power to change the equation. In the foreword of the released report, George Clooney and John Prendergast outlined The Sentry’s course of action. “We propose a new strategy to counter mass atrocities that would utilize the tools of financial pressure normally reserved for countering terrorism, organized crime, and nuclear proliferation. The new approach would combine anti-money laundering measures with targeted asset freezes focused on key leaders and their networks, accompanied by robust enforcement. These tools would have two objectives: to create leverage in support of more effective peace efforts, human rights protections, and good governance initiatives; and to bring to account those responsible for atrocities…
Thanks to The Sentry, there has been an elevation in awareness of the role that anti-money laundering regulatory measures, as well as network sanctions designations and enforcement, can play to advance human rights in East and Central Africa. Its investigative reports have helped shine a spotlight on the grand corruption and shadowy international networks linked to some of the world’s deadliest conflict zones. However, its work in South Sudan was just the beginning. Last month, The Sentry released a major new investigative report on the Democratic Republic of Congo. More reports are on the way before the end of the year, and at the same time The Sentry investigators are turning over dossiers to banks, law enforcement, and regulatory agencies.
Learn more about this all-new investigative report at thesentry.org/reports/terrorists-treasury-congo.