KHARTOUM (Reuters) - The group set up to claw back assets from ousted President Omar al-Bashir and his associates said it had retrieved hundreds of millions of dollars in property and cash, but it faces resistance and criticism that it applies “selective justice”.
The committee’s progress is seen as a litmus test for the peaceful transition to democratic rule after the 2019 overthrow of Bashir, who dominated Sudanese politics for 30 years before the military forced him out after a popular uprising.
The 77-year-old is currently in jail in the capital Khartoum and faces several judicial cases on charges of treason, corruption and war crimes, which he denies.
When it began reporting last year on the holdings of the Bashir-era elite - which include prime Nile-front property in Khartoum, fertile farmland and profitable companies - the committee’s televised briefings were eagerly followed.
Wagdi Salih, a lawyer and politician who sits on the 18-member body, said it had handed back more than $1 billion in assets to the finance ministry and another $400 million to the ministry of religious affairs and endowments.
He also told Reuters its members had faced death threats, that the committee did not receive the funding it needed and that authorities had been slow to follow up on its investigations.
That, he added, showed how far the roots of Bashir’s rule stretched, including within the transitional government tasked with steering the country to elections by the end of 2023.
“Everyone who stands in the way of dismantling the June 30 regime is either part of the old regime, or their interests are tied up with the old regime and so they are trying to preserve it,” he said, referring to the date when Bashir took power in a bloodless coup in 1989.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Hamza Balol said the committee was carrying out its constitutional duties and its efforts to reclaim ill-gotten assets were appreciated.
Sudan’s public prosecutor could not be reached for comment.
DISMANTLING THE REGIME
Sudan is run by a power-sharing alliance of civilian political groups and the military, which stepped in following months of protests demanding that Bashir and the political and financial complex that supported him be dismantled.
Officially known as the Committee to Dismantle the June 30, 1989 Regime and Retrieve Public Funds, the task force includes politicians, military leaders and government officials and is due to operate until the end of the transition period.
So far it has seized more than 50 companies and 60 organizations, more than a million feddans (420,000 hectares) of farmland and 20 million square meters of residential property, a committee source said.
Among assets reclaimed are hotels, schools, factories, and a golf course on the outskirts of Khartoum, all of which Salih said would continue to operate.
Another is Tayba, a broadcaster that Bashir told court he helped finance and which the committee said had beamed content supporting groups including Islamist political movement the Muslim Brotherhood and jihadists Boko Haram across Africa.
Its facilities, far more advanced than those of the national broadcaster, would now be used to launch new channels, said interim manager Maher Abuljokh.
“The public watches the committee and we are happy that what’s ours is being retrieved and brought back to us so that we can benefit from it,” said Mayada Khairy, an activist.
Another of the group’s stated aims has been to purge public bodies of Bashir loyalists. Many officials who supported the leader’s Islamist ideology were promoted within the government as part of a policy known as “tamkeen”, or empowerment.
That attempt has triggered a backlash from those affected, some of whom gathered in protest last month in Khartoum to complain that around 7,000 people had been fired from the civil service without proper explanation or appeal process.
“Hold us accountable, tell us what law we broke, and we can respond to it. That’s the law, and that’s the justice they claim to have brought in the revolution,” said Safia Ahmed, a former legal counsel at the justice ministry who was dismissed last year.
Some critics see the committee as a means for easy political point scoring by a government struggling to manage an economic crisis, while others are concerned about what they see as a shaky legal framework.
A better approach would be to establish a group of independent commissioners, rather than politicians, able to apply the law equally to every individual, said Mohamed Abdelsalam, dean of the University of Khartoum law school.
“The current practice can be labeled as selective justice,” he told Reuters, warning of a lack of due process.
The committee said it could not control the fact that a mandated appeals commission and judicial tribunal to review its decisions have yet to convene, but said it had made some revisions on its own.
It only removed those who actively opposed Bashir’s overthrow and did not discriminate based on political ideology, according to Salih.
Additional reporting by El Tayeb Siddig; Writing by Nafisa Eltahir, Editing by Aidan Lewis and Mike Collett-White
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