General James Hoth Mai Nguoth was earning just A$60,000 a year, says report released by the Sentry
A former South Sudanese army general has been thrown into the spotlight after it was revealed he paid $1.5m for a home in Melbourne’s south-east despite earning just A$60,000 a year.
The revelation comes in the first report released by the Sentry, an investigative organisation founded by the US actor George Clooney and the rights activist John Prendergast to track and analyse how armed conflict and atrocities are financed.
The report accuses senior officials on modest salaries in South Sudan of profiteering from the civil war.
In the foreword to their report, Clooney and Prendergast write that top officials in South Sudan have “managed to accumulate fortunes, despite modest government salaries” while the country is divided by a civil war.
“Meanwhile, some top officials and their family members own stakes in a broad array of companies doing business in the country – and, in some cases, these commercial engagements may be in violation of South Sudanese law.
“Members of their families often live in multimillion-dollar mansions outside the country, stay in five-star hotels, reap the benefits of what appears to be a system of nepotism and shady corporate deals, and drive around in luxury cars – all while much of their country’s population suffers from the consequences of a brutal civil war and, in many places, experiences near-famine conditions.”
The report highlights General James Hoth Mai Nguoth and his family as a case study, saying he bought a home in the Melbourne suburb of Narre Warren North under his son’s name in 2014. Hoth Mai served as the chief of staff and deputy chief of logistics of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army before being dismissed in 2014.
“The residence is situated on a one-acre lot backing up to a forested area bordering nearby Lysterfield Lake, a popular destination for sailing, canoeing and mountain biking,” the Sentry report says.
“The home boasts four bedrooms, a top-of-the-line kitchen, a two-tiered home theatre, a sauna and an infinity pool. When the Sentry visited the home in August 2016, a BMW 316 used by one of Hoth Mai’s daughters was parked in front of the house.
“The home was described by the real estate agency that sold it as ‘perfecting the balance between serenity and glamour’.
The agent who sold Hoth Mai the home, and who did not want to be named, told Guardian Australia that he thought the family “were lovely and very well-mannered and well-educated”.
Contrary to the Sentry report’s claims, he said the property was originally bought in Hoth Mai’s wife’s name, not his son’s. The name was transferred to his son at settlement. The agent said he did show Hoth Mai through the home once and that the property had been paid for using money transferred from overseas bank accounts, including from Dubai.
According to a report in the Australian, the former owner of the home grew suspicious of the Hoth Mai family owing to difficulties with the settlement, including the family experiencing trouble getting money out of Dubai. He reported his concerns to the Foreign Investment Review Board but told the Australian the board “didn’t want a bar of it”.
The Guardian has sought comment from Hoth Mai.
In July Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, announced $8m in funding for the South Sudan humanitarian fund and the UN high commissioner for refugees to deliver deliver food, shelter, security and other assistance to South Sudanese who had fled the conflict to neighbouring countries. It brought Australia’s total contribution to South Sudan to more than $50m since December 2013.
The Sentry report also states that the president, Salva Kiir, and the opposition leader, Riek Machar, had both amassed wealth from the conflict, which they had shared with their family through luxury trips, cars and homes.
“Several of President Kiir’s other children have attended high school and college in Australia, Malaysia and Uganda,” the report said.
“And President Kiir’s children appear to travel internationally for more than just their education. One of his children posted photos and videos on social media showing a vacation throughout Europe with stops in Paris, Munich, Oslo and Milan.
“Social media accounts reveal several of the same children of the president and their friends riding jet-skis, driving in luxury vehicles, partying on boats, clubbing and drinking in the Villa Rosa Kempinski – one of Nairobi’s fanciest and most expensive hotels – all during South Sudan’s current civil war.”
Fighting in the region continues, despite the signing of a peace agreement in 2015.
A presidential spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny, responded to the allegations to the news organisation al-Jazeera, describing the claims against Kiir as “rubbish” and “politically biased”.
“Their statement is a mere recipe for fuelling gross misconception about the leadership of South Sudan,” Ateny said from the capital, Juba. “We will [take] them to court, we will hire the law firm in the US and we will sue them because they have relied on evidence that is completely rubbish.
“They were actually interviewing 100 people who … only came to give evidence on condition of anonymity … but, at the end of the day, [their identity] will be disclosed, because if we go to the court of law they will have to be disclosed.”