* Letter sent to 75 current and former officials
* Country scrambling to make up for lost oil revenue
* Many South Sudan officials are former rebel fighters
By Hereward Holland
JUBA, June 4 South Sudanese officials have
"stolen" an estimated $4 billion of public money and should
return it to salvage the young nation's reputation and help lift
its people out of poverty, the president said in a letter seen
The request came as the central African country, which
seceded from Sudan less than a year ago, is scrambling for cash
to make up for the loss of almost all state revenues with the
shutdown of its oil output in January.
Critics have accused the government of President Salva Kiir
doing little to clamp down on widespread corruption that has
hampered efforts to build the war-torn state from scratch and
In a letter to 75 current and former officials dated May 3,
Kiir offered amnesty for officials and individuals with
government ties who returned the money.
"An estimated $4 billion are unaccounted for or, simply put,
stolen by former and current officials, as well as corrupt
individuals with close ties to government officials," Kiir said
in the letter obtained by Reuters.
Reliable figures are hard to come by in South Sudan, but the
figure could amount to around one third of the estimated total
oil receipts allotted to the South between the 2005 peace deal
that ended decades of civil war and independence last year.
"Most of these funds have been taken out of the country and
deposited in foreign accounts. Some have purchased properties,
often paid in cash," the letter said.
A senior South Sudan government official confirmed to
Reuters that the letter was sent to current, former and deputy
ministers in the last ten days.
Decades of conflict and economic neglect have left the
nation of about 8.6 million people with some of the worst health
and education statistics on the planet. Few paved roads exist
outside the capital, Juba.
Secession from Sudan last July sparked widespread optimism
among South Sudanese that their country would at last head
toward prosperity, but lingering disputes with Khartoum and
corruption have hobbled the economy since then.
South Sudan's Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin
said over half of the estimated $4 billion was from the
country's so-called "durra" scandal, in which a large government
purchase of sorghum was allegedly never distributed.
"It is a colossal sum," he said.
"WE FORGOT WHAT WE FOUGHT FOR"
South Sudan's ruling party, the Sudan People's Liberation
Movement (SPLM), largely consists of former rebels who fought
against Khartoum. Few have deep experience with civilian
institutions or economic management.
Financial oversight, where it exists at all, is weak.
"We fought for freedom, justice and equality. Many of our
friends died to achieve these objectives. Yet, once we got to
power, we forgot what we fought for and began to enrich
ourselves at the expense of our people," the letter read.
"The credibility of our government is on the line."
From 2005 until independence, Khartoum and Juba officially
split oil revenues evenly - giving the South roughly $2 billion
In November, South Sudan said it had contracted oil sales
worth $3.2 billion for the period between July 9 and Dec. 31. It
is unclear how much was actually sold.
The landlocked country took control of about 350,000 barrels
a day of oil output - around 75 percent of Sudan's total - at
partition, but failed to agree how much it should pay Khartoum
to use pipelines running through Sudan.
That dispute prompted the new nation to shut off its
production in January, instantly erasing about 98 percent of
state revenues and the country's dominant source of dollars.
Although the government has adopted an austerity budget to
help curtail spending, a leaked document from the World Bank
estimates foreign reserves will run out in July. South Sudanese
officials insist the assessment overstates the danger.
South Sudan's anti-corruption committee has recovered an
estimated $60 million from fraudulent transactions and
misappropriation of funds by government officials, the
president's office said in a June 1 press release.
It said Kiir sent eight letters to heads of state in Africa,
the United States, Middle East, and Europe in January seeking
assistance in the recovery of stolen funds by current and former
South Sudanese officials.
(Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy; Writing by Hereward
Holland and Alexander Dziadosz; editing by Ron Askew)