Savvy ICC prosecutor tries to isolate Sudan’s president

It’s oust-a-dictator day on WikiLeaks, it seems. In addition to learning that the United Nations may have tried to pay Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s way into retirement, it seems that International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has been thinking of his own strategies to get Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir arrested and out of office, ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
BAS CZERWINSKI/AFP/Getty Images
BAS CZERWINSKI/AFP/Getty Images
BAS CZERWINSKI/AFP/Getty Images

It's oust-a-dictator day on WikiLeaks, it seems. In addition to learning that the United Nations may have tried to pay Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's way into retirement, it seems that International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has been thinking of his own strategies to get Sudan's President Omar al Bashir arrested and out of office, according to a March 2009 cable from the U.S. mission to the United Nations.

Tactic No. 1 was the subject of many headlines this weekend: Ocampo suggested exposing the fact that the Sudanese president may have as much as $9 billion stashed away in London bank accounts. The cable reads,

Ocampo reported Lloyd’s Bank in London might be holding or knowledgeable of the whereabouts of his money. Ocampo suggested simply exposing that Bashir had illegal accounts would be enough to turn the Sudanese against him, 'as with Pinochet.'

It’s oust-a-dictator day on WikiLeaks, it seems. In addition to learning that the United Nations may have tried to pay Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s way into retirement, it seems that International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has been thinking of his own strategies to get Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir arrested and out of office, according to a March 2009 cable from the U.S. mission to the United Nations.

Tactic No. 1 was the subject of many headlines this weekend: Ocampo suggested exposing the fact that the Sudanese president may have as much as $9 billion stashed away in London bank accounts. The cable reads,

Ocampo reported Lloyd’s Bank in London might be holding or knowledgeable of the whereabouts of his money. Ocampo suggested simply exposing that Bashir had illegal accounts would be enough to turn the Sudanese against him, ‘as with Pinochet.’

The Pinochet reference refers to Chilean military leader Augusto Pinochet, who remained popular with about half the country even after his ouster and subsequent London arrest for massive human rights abuses in 1999 — popular, that is, until his supporters learned from a U.S. congressional investigation that the former dictator had lifted billions of dollars during his 17-year tenure and stashed them overseas.

But that wasn’t Ocampo’s only idea, according to the cable. He also suggests, the cable says, that further efforts be made to convince China that Bashir could be arrested — by ensuring Beijing that its access to oil would be unaffected by a regime change: "If China believed Bashir was becoming a destabilizing influence, Ocampo said China might be more open to his removal as long as his replacement would guarantee support for China’s economic interests."

Ocampo’s first tactic is about to get a test drive, since the possible money-stashing has been exposed. Bashir is denying the charges — and actually makes one good point: that it would be pretty tricky for him to stash money in a British bank, given that Sudan is heavily sanctioned. As for the second, it’s not clear who would take the reins if Bashir were indeed arrested. The most plausible candidate, Vice President Ali Osman Taha, would be unlikely to represent real change in policy terms. 

So probably the biggest impact of this cable will be a headache for the International Criminal Court, which already has a very hard time investigating in Sudan. And if Bashir plays it right with his media machine — as he has done so many times over the years — he could even score points from the report, claiming that this is yet another effort by the court to defame Sudan, Islam, and his regime.

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

Tags: ICC, Sudan

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