Sudan's Bashir charged with illegal use of foreign funds

Sudan's ousted president Omar al-Bashir appeared in court in a black metal cage wearing the country's traditional white attire and turban.
Sudan's ousted president Omar al-Bashir appeared in court in a black metal cage wearing the country's traditional white attire and turban.PHOTO: AFP

KHARTOUM (AFP) - Sudan's ousted president Omar al-Bashir was charged in court Saturday (Aug 31) with illegal acquisition and use of foreign funds, offences that could land him behind bars for more than a decade.

Mr Bashir, who was deposed in April following months of mass protests against his rule, appeared in court in a black metal cage wearing the country's traditional white attire and turban.

Judge Al-Sadiq Abdelrahman outlined the charges at what was the third session of the trial, saying cash in multiple currencies was uncovered at his home.

Authorities had "seized 6.9 million euros (S$10.5 million), US$351,770 (S$488,000) and 5.7 million Sudanese pounds (S$175,000) at (Mr Bashir's) home which he acquired and used illegally", said Mr Abdelrahman.

Speaking for the first time in court, 75-year-old Mr Bashir said the seized funds were the remainder of the equivalent of US$25 million that he had received from the Saudi crown prince.

"My office manager...received a call from the office of Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman saying he has a 'message' that will be sent on a private jet," Mr Bashir told the court.

"We were told that the crown prince did not want his name to appear (linked to the transaction)...and if the funds were deposited with Sudan's bank or the finance ministry, the source would have to be identified," he said.

Dozens of Mr Bashir's relatives attended Saturday's session, chanting "Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest)" as he entered the courtroom pointing his index finger to the sky.

Mr Bashir failed to specify when he received the funds, but said he accepted them as part of strategic relations with Saudi Arabia.

 
 
 
 

He said the funds "were not used for private interests but as donations" to support individuals and entities including wheat import companies, a university and a hospital.

Sudan has in recent years played a key role in supporting the regional interests of Saudi Arabia and its allies, with Mr Bashir overseeing a major foreign policy shift that saw Khartoum break its decades-old ties with Shiite Iran.

His administration sided with Riyadh against Tehran in part by providing troops for the Saudi-led coalition fighting against Iran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen's ongoing war.

"Relations with Saudi witnessed episodes of tensions (over the years)...but they developed greatly, especially as Mr bin Salman rose to power," Mr Bashir said.

According to Judge Abdelrahman, Sudanese law punishes illegal acquisition of wealth by up to 10 years in jail while illicit use of foreign funds carries up to three years.

Mr Bashir's defence lawyers insisted their client was "not guilty" and said witnesses would be brought before the court.

"We have witnesses, proof and documents that we will present to court to refute these charges," said lawyer Ahmed Ibrahim al-Taher.

An investigator had previously told the court that Mr Bashir received US$90 million in cash from Saudi royals including payments of US$35 million and US$30 million from Saudi King Abdullah, who died in 2015.

After two and a half hours, the judge ordered that the trial be adjourned until Sept 7.

Mr Bashir was escorted to and from the Khartoum courthouse by a convoy of military vehicles.

Dozens of his supporters gathered outside waving Sudanese flags.

After he was deposed, Mr Bashir was transferred to the capital's maximum-security Kober prison, where thousands of political prisoners were held during his 30 years in power.

Sudan has embarked on a transition to civilian rule following a power-sharing deal signed on August 17 by protest leaders and the generals who ousted Mr Bashir.

A civilian-military ruling body is now at the helm to steer the country through a three-year transition period.

Protesters have called for Mr Bashir to face justice not just over corruption but for his role in the country's deadly conflicts and for stifling dissent.

Mr Bashir is wanted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court over his role in mass killings in the western region of Darfur.

More than 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million displaced in the conflict which erupted in 2003, according to the United Nations.

But the country's military generals rejected his extradition.

Sudan's prosecutor general has said Mr Bashir would also be charged over the killings during the anti-regime protests which eventually led to his ouster.