Shulman Rogers, Somalia, and the Great Corruption Carousel

A newly leaked United Nations monitoring group report on Somalia came to the same conclusion as ex-Central Bank chief Yusra Abrar in alleging the president, several advisors, the ex-Foreign Minister, and American law firm Shulman Rogers conspired to divert government assets frozen abroad for personal gain.

Shulman Rogers was initially contracted by the Somali government to recover frozen assets in early 2010 under the administration of former President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. 

In legal documents submitted under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), Shulman Rogers said the main point of contact would be the president’s office and a senior official for financial asset recovery and banking affairs named Ali Amilow–who was named as a co-conspirator in the monitoring group’s recent claims.

In addition, Shulman Rogers said its efforts “may also involve”–not will involve–work with the Central Bank and Finance Ministry, which was a strange caveat for a job that would require such a relationship. (Note: Other FARA documents indicated that Shulman Rogers added the Central Bank to its client list in September 2013.)

Over time, Shulman Rogers’ involvement in Somalia has slowly developed into a dangerous conflict of interest. 

On one hand, it has allegedly been complicit in assisting Somali officials and advisors in trying to abscond with frozen assets.

On the other hand, it was paid by the same government to write a lengthy report defending the government against graft charges previously leveled by the UN monitoring group. That anti-graft report was produced in partnership with FTI Consulting, which is working with the Somali government’s main partner in oil and gas exploration Soma Oil and Gas.

Ex-FM/Deputy Prime Minister and current MP Fowzia Haji Yusuf Adam’s alleged involvement is also ironic given her previous tiff with an EU diplomat over the international community’s failure to deliver donor support directly to the Somali government due to corruption fears. Her proponents applauded her standing up for Somalia sovereignty while her opponents would now say she was merely looking for an opportunity to “eat.”

The Big Contradiction

Shulman Rogers and the Somali government on one side and MP Fowzia Haji on another have made contradictory claims about the existence of a plan to transfer recovered assets into a mysterious account in Dubai.

The law firm backed President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s assertion that there was no plan to set up a Dubai bank account. 

However, in a much publicized letter sent to media outlets, Fowzia Haji specifically stated there was indeed a plan to open an account in Dubai since the Somali Central Bank did not have a SWIFT code (though it appears it does) that is needed for international wire transfers.

In one way, Fowzia may be right in stating that not having a SWIFT code would require the Somali government to look at other options for transferring frozen assets.

But if the government cannot properly and transparently deliver these assets under industry standards and protocols, Somalia is not ready for an asset recovery program.

Equally important, since the Somali government claims not to know the value of frozen assets and has not disclosed how and when any of these assets have exchanged hands, the recovery program is trickier to monitor outside the corridors of power–making it the ideally vulnerable cookie jar.

Too Big To Fail

It is unlikely the UN Special Envoy’s office and donor countries will make any significant public commentary or action in response to financial diversion as business-as-usual among top Somali officials and the American law firm.

Doing so would severely damage the credibility of a government whose every accomplishment–big or small–is celebrated by the international community like an infant’s firsts.

Diplomats and donors–Somalia’s hype team–want to continue to focus on their goals of framing the government as the only legitimate alternative to al-Shabaab while also trying to shore up the SFG’s discipline so it can fulfill key parts of the Vision 2016 framework.

Of course, there is always the risk that certain forces–either local, foreign, or both–could tug the strings in parliament necessary to re-raise the issue of impeaching the President as a serious punitive measure for not curbing alleged corruption.

But with MPs as vulnerable to financial bribes as they are to pursuing other interests, “justice” can be bought as easily as impunity can be negotiated.

The bottom line is that the international community is not serious about taking a hard line on Somali elites likely responsible for financial corruption in the same way that it does with pirate networks–for example.

It is impossible to forget the elaborate scheme to arrest “retired” pirate “Afweyne” and his alleged accomplice in former Himan and Heeb president “Tiiceey”. Both unwittingly walked into their own jail cell in Belgium after authorities gained then exploited their trust about participating in a piracy documentary.

However, no such elaborate entrapment has been used to sanction or litigate against Somali elites who have allegedly been engaged in looting the country’s resources.

The international community’s refusal to turn off the aid tap or investigate and punish those taking a ride on the corruption carousel creates very few incentives for Somali elites to think twice about corruption–especially if the worst outcome is a potentially early exit (but not necessarily last spell) in office.

As a result, the shelf life of an ineffective Somali official is Methuslian. Even Hussein Abdi Halane–who was Finance Minister in part of a transitional government period where hundreds of millions of dollars went unaccounted for–was selected again to the same position by the current prime minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed.

Can Abrar Shine Some Light?

With the monitoring group now taking the side of ex-Central Bank chief Abrar, the latter is now coming off more like a hero than before for withstanding the corruption machine in Mogadishu and has likely won herself a verdict in the court of public opinion.

Still, Abrar and the monitoring group could do more to advance their claims if hard evidence was provided (e.g., emails, documents, etc.) implicating specific individuals rather than allowing the he said-she said debate to be decided on the credibility gap alone.

Releasing evidence suitable for a court of law would put pressure on Somali authorities and the international community to take more action against these individuals–or at the least sort out who is building a case of lies and who is not.

Categories: Int'l Community in Somalia, Somali Government

Tags: , ,

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