Sudan’s deposed leader, Omar al-Bashir, told investigators that he had received $90 million from Saudi Arabia, a Khartoum court heard Monday during the opening of al-Bashir’s keenly anticipated trial on corruption charges.
A senior police officer testified that al-Bashir, who was ousted in April after months of street protests, had admitted to receiving part of the money from envoys sent by the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. The remainder came during the reign of King Abdullah, who died in 2015.
Al-Bashir was confined to a cage and surrounded by uniformed security officials for the two-hour hearing, in a sight that few Sudanese could have imagined during al-Bashir’s 30 years in power. The former leader spoke only to confirm his name, age, and residence. His lawyer dismissed the accusations.
It was a dramatic start to a trial that has come to signify the momentous changes underway in Sudan since al-Bashir was ousted in April. Many Sudanese hope to sweep away the vestiges of al-Bashir’s period of rule, when Sudan endured numerous internal revolts, became an international pariah, and was subjected to US sanctions. More recently the country suffered a crushing economic collapse that spurred the uprising against him.
Even so, most Sudanese say the revolution is incomplete. Al-Bashir, 75, has yet to face charges in the most serious accusations against him, including genocide and war crimes. And some of his closest lieutenants have retained their grip on power.
On Saturday, Sudan’s military and civilian leaders signed a power-sharing deal to run the country jointly for the next three years until elections can be held. A transitional government run by civilians, with a senior general in charge, is scheduled to assume power Sept. 1.
The generals, most of whom owe their careers to al-Bashir, insist they will not send him to The Hague to stand trial at the International Criminal Court, where he faces a decade-old indictment on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
Those charges stem from a brutal military campaign in the western region of Darfur in which up to 300,000 people were killed. Many of the generals who led that campaign, including the head of a notorious paramilitary unit, are expected to hold senior positions in the new power-sharing government.
The account in Monday’s hearing of large personal payments from Saudi royalty also highlighted the enduring influence of one of the richest countries in the region on one of the poorest.
Saudi Arabia and its ally, the United Arab Emirates, backed al-Bashir, who sent thousands of troops to support the Saudi-led war campaign in Yemen. But the Saudis and Emiratis quickly switched sides after al-Bashir was ousted, offering a $3 billion aid package to the military junta that toppled him.
The trial being held in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, focuses on corruption charges.
Al-Bashir arrived at the courthouse in a large military convoy. As he arrived in the courtroom he waved his hand in greeting to supporters, who responded with cries of “God is great.”
It was striking to see al-Bashir — for decades one of the great survivors among African autocrats — take a seat inside a cage. He smiled as he listed his place of residence as Kober prison, a facility in Khartoum where he once dispatched his own enemies.
The corruption charges stem from a raid on one of al-Bashir’s residence in the days after his ouster, when police and military officials seized bundles of cash in various currencies that the military junta’s leader, Lieutenant General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, later valued at about $113 million.
Police Brigadier General Ahmed Ali Mohamed, a detective in the team investigating the deposed leader, testified that al-Bashir had admitted to receiving $25 million from Crown Prince Mohammed and an additional $65 million in two payments from King Abdullah, the predecessor to the kingdom’s current monarch, Reuters reported.
Sudan’s prosecutor general said in May that al-Bashir had been charged in the deaths of protesters in the uprising that eventually led to his ouster. That trial has not yet begun.
Another major figure from al-Bashir’s era, the former spy chief Salah Gosh, is also facing scrutiny. Last week the United States imposed sanctions on Gosh for his role in the alleged torture of detainees by the National Intelligence and Security Service, which he led until al-Bashir’s ouster. The sanctions bar Gosh, his wife, and his daughter from entering the United States.
In a statement announcing the measures, the State Department said it supported a “transitional government that is truly civilian led and differs fundamentally from the Bashir regime, particularly on the protection of human rights.”