ICC probe on claims Sudan president diverted billions

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The International Criminal Court's prosecutor Saturday said a probe was underway into information alleging that Sudan's president siphoned off up to nine billion dollars into bank accounts.

The allegations, denied by a senior official in Sudan President Omar al-Bashir's ruling National Congress Party (NCP), surfaced in diplomatic cables revealed by WikiLeaks on Saturday.

"We have different sources providing information about Omar al-Bashir's money on several accounts, from hundreds of millions up to nine billion dollars," said prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

"That is the information we are trying to corroborate, we are not charging him. The money is not in the UK but outside the UK. We are trying to find where it is," he said, adding: "We are investigating."

The WikiLeaks document quotes Moreno-Ocampo as saying US officials should go public with the allegations about diverted oil money deposited in British bank accounts in order to turn Sudanese public opinion against him.

It said Moreno-Ocampo told US officials that the figure allegedly put away by Bashir was possibly nine billion dollars and "would change Sudanese public opinion from him being a 'crusader' to that of a thief."

The document was released by the whistleblowing website a day after its founder Julian Assange was released on bail in Britain over allegations of sex crimes in Sweden. It said Britain's Lloyds Banking Group "may be holding or knowledgeable of the whereabouts of his money".

Lloyds insisted it was not aware of any link with Bashir.

"We have absolutely no evidence to suggest there is any connection between Lloyds Banking Group and Mr Bashir," a spokeswoman said.

"The group's policy is to abide by the legal and regulatory obligations in all jurisdictions in which we operate."

In Khartoum, NCP official Rabie Abdul Atie called Moreno-Ocampo an "international liar" and said the allegations against Bashir were "ridiculous."

"I can confirm to you that there is no account of Bashir inside or outside Sudan."

Bashir is wanted by The Hague-based court to face charges of genocide and war crimes in Sudan's western province of Darfur. He is subject to two arrest warrants issued by the ICC for atrocities committed in Darfur.

The court's first-ever warrant against a sitting head of state was issued against Bashir in March 2009 on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The second was issued in July 2010 on charges of genocide.

© 2010 AFP

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