Graft allegations test West`s ties to Somali president

Last Updated: Friday, February 14, 2014 - 13:31

Nairobi: A resignation letter by Somalia`s central bank governor sent from Dubai has thrown Western donors into a quandary over supporting a government they need to fight al Qaeda`s local allies.

Governor Yussur Abrar quit after only seven weeks in the job, alleging she had been pressured to accept arrangements she believed would open the door to corruption.

With one email, she sucked President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud into a dispute over the recovery of frozen Somali assets from abroad, embarrassing foreign donors who have pledged billions to rebuild his shattered nation after two decades of chaos.

Divisive clan politics have bedevilled Somalia throughout its long civil war and more recent insurgency by the Islamist militants of al Shabaab, the local franchise of al Qaeda.
Western governments, determined to avoid another military involvement like in Iraq and Afghanistan, threw their support behind Mohamud, an Indian-educated former university professor and civil rights activist. They also strongly backed US-educated Abrar, a senior international banker, when she became Somalia`s first female central bank chief.

Now the two have fallen out. Mohamud denies wrongdoing and Abrar provided no documentary evidence to support her complaints in her October 30 resignation letter.

Nevertheless, the allegations shocked Western diplomats and United Nations officials who have put so much faith in the president to restore Somalia`s stability.

Nicholas Kay, the UN Special Representative to Somalia, described Abrar`s resignation to the Security Council as a "body blow" to donor confidence. It underlined the need for stronger management of public finances, he said.

Diplomats said the UN Monitoring Group for Somalia, which presents its findings to the Security Council, is now investigating her allegations.

Abrar waited until she was in the United Arab Emirates before quitting. In her letter, which Reuters has reviewed, she did not accuse Mohamud of graft. However, she said she had "continuously been asked to sanction deals and transactions that would contradict my personal values and violate my fiduciary responsibility to the Somali people".

Without giving names, Abrar said she had been "undermined by various parties within the administration".

A former Citigroup vice president, Abrar said she had vehemently opposed a contract with US law firm Shulman Rogers under which it is trying to recover the assets from abroad. This, she said, would "put the frozen assets at risk and open the door to corruption".

Abrar also said in her resignation letter that she had been warned by "multiple parties" that her personal security would be at risk if she went against the president`s wishes.

Sources familiar with Abrar`s version of events told Reuters that the pressure on her to sanction the contract had come from the president and his foreign minister at the time.

Abrar declined to elaborate publicly on her allegations when asked by Reuters, although she said in an email: "Tackling corruption was vital to create trust with international partners and to move the country forward economically, socially and politically."
Mohamud told Reuters he never put pressure on Abrar to sign any contract. "I have a very clear record in government since I came to power," he said on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Ethiopia.

A Shulman Rogers representative denied its contract opened the door to graft. "It is as clean a contract and as clean a deal as you can possibly have," he told Reuters.

The sources said that according to Abrar, the former foreign minister had also pressed her to open a bank account in Dubai against her wishes. Abrar resigned without opening it.

Mohamud told Reuters there had been no time "that I ever asked my governor to open an account in my name".

According to Abrar, the assets and money from Middle East donors would be channelled through the Dubai account before transfer to Somalia, the sources said. She believed this account would be controlled by the president, they said, and that money outside the central bank account could not be tracked, leaving it open to corruption and theft.

Reuters

First Published: Friday, February 14, 2014 - 13:31

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