Sanctions Round-Up: July & August 2021
Five African nationals have been listed by the State Department of the United States as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs). Accordingly, the five – Abdukadir Mohamed Abdukadir, Salem ould Breihmatt, Sidan Ag Hitta, Bonomade Machude Omar, and Mohamed Ali Rage – were added to the Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (OFAC) Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN) on 6th August.
Two of these targets are associated with Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), al-Qaida’s offshoot in the Maghreb. One of them is Sidan Ag Hitta, whose name is alternatively spelled as Sedane Ag Hita, and also known by his alias, Abou Hadel Hakim al-Kidali. According to the State Department, he is a senior commander of JNIM in the Kidal Region of Mali, accused of being responsible for the January 2019 attack on the United Nations’ peacekeeping base in the region.
A former Malian solider who deserted his service in 2006 to join a Tuareg revolt, Ag Hitta later gravitated towards JNIM’s precursor organisation, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). He is now described as one of the most wanted terrorists in Mali, accused of sponsoring the abduction and murder of two French journalists in 2013. He is also reportedly the second-in-command of JNIM, behind leader Iyad Ag Ghaly.
The other sanctioned figure linked to JNIM is Salem ould Breihmatt, a Mauritanian national who is named as a senior leader of the group and its emir in Arbinda and Serma in the Mopti Region of Mali. The State Department alleges that he is an expert in explosives, as well as being responsible for overseeing JNIM’s operations in Burkina Faso. Aside from this information, little is known about him.
This action also targeted figures from al-Shabaab, including Abdukadir Mohamed Abdukadir, who is better known as “Ikrima”. The State Department believes that he is a facilitator and operational planner for the group, having overseen its operations and logistics divisions since November 2019. Ikrima was the target of a US raid on Barawe, Somalia in October 2013, but managed to escape. The State Department subsequently offered up to $3m for information leading to his arrest.
Also designated was Mohamed Ali Rage, better known as “Ali Dhere”. He has been al-Shabaab’s chief spokesman since May 2009 and is accused of involvement in planning attacks in Kenya and Somalia. As a prominent figure in the group’s external communications, he has even spoken to Western media on occasion.
The final target of the US’s action was Bonomade Machude Omar, a Mozambican national who is also known as “Ibn Omar”. He has been identified as the leader of the military and external affairs departments for what the US calls “ISIS-Mozambique” but is better known as Ansar al-Sunna and more locally referred to as al-Shabaab (no connection to the Somali group of the same name). According to the State Department, Omar’s role involves coordinating attacks in northern Mozambique and southern Tanzania, as well as managing the group’s communications. In particular, he is accused of leading the attack on the Amarula Hotel in Palma in March 2021.
A native of Cabo Delgado, Omar was identified as the man featuring in Ansar al-Sunna’s social media videos in September 2020 by Mozambican media. He has also been named by national security forces as one of the insurgents’ leaders as far back as 2018.
Equatorial Guinea & Zimbabwe
On 22nd July, the United Kingdom’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI) sanctioned several figures, including the Equatoguinean president’s son. The individual, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, commonly known as “Teodorín”, in addition to being the son of President Teodoro Obiang, is also the vice president of Equatorial Guinea.
Teodorín is accused by OFSI of being “involved in the misappropriation of significant amounts of public assets from Equatorial Guinea […] to fund a lavish lifestyle in various countries abroad”. According to the British government, he has reportedly spent over $500m since being appointed a government minister in 1998, including $100m on a mansion in Paris, amongst other luxuries.
In October 2011, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) sought to recover over $70.8m in “proceeds of corruption” from Teodorín, eventually reaching a settlement with him to relinquish over $30m in assets. Later, in October 2017, he was handed a suspended sentence in France for “plundering public money” from his homeland to fund his lifestyle in Paris. Concluding this case, the court also ordered his mansion to be confiscated. A couple of years later, Swiss authorities auctioned off 25 luxury cars that had been seized from his residence.
As part of the same action, OFSI also sanctioned prominent Zimbabwean businessman Kuda Tagwirei, who the UK accuses of benefiting from “the misappropriation of property” through the Zimbabwean government’s relationship with his company, Sakunda Holdings. Specifically, he is said to have redeemed government bills at “up to ten times their official values”, which “accelerated the devaluation of Zimbabwe’s currency”.
Reports in recent months have sought to expose Tagwirei’s offshore corporate empire, his links to Zimbabwe’s mining industry, and his influence over President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration. Both he and his company were sanctioned by OFAC in August 2020 for “materially assisting senior Zimbabwean government officials involved in public corruption”.
OFSI’s sanctions were made under the UK’s new global anti-corruption regime, which was launched in April 2021. In reaction, the US State Department and US Treasury both welcomed the designations, describing them as “an important step […] in the fight against corruption”.
General Filipos Woldeyohannes, the Eritrean Defence Forces’ (EDF) chief of staff, has been sanctioned by the US under its Global Magnitsky human rights regime. The designation was made on 23rd August by OFAC with regards to alleged “serious human rights abuses” in Tigray by the EDF. As a senior official of the forces, Filipos has been held responsible for alleged atrocities committed by its personnel, which include incidents of “massacres, looting, and sexual assaults”.
In a statement on the designation, the State Department expressed its concern that “large numbers of EDF have re-entered Ethiopia, after withdrawing in June”. Similarly, OFAC’s director, Andrea Gacki, urged Eritrea to “immediately and permanently withdraw its forces from Ethiopia”. Responding to the US’s action, the Eritrean government dismissed the allegations against Filipos as “baseless” and rejected the sanctions.
The Tigray War has been ongoing since Ethiopia’s federal government moved to oust the region’s ruling party – the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – from power in November 2020. It is widely believed that Eritrea sent its forces across the border into Tigray in support of the Ethiopian campaign.
On 13th August, a Liberian entity and a vessel sailing under the Liberian flag were subjected to secondary sanctions by OFAC. The action targeted an Omani foreign broker – Mahmood Rashid Amur al-Habsi – and his alleged “international oil smuggling network”, which is believed to be supporting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF). According to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, the network has “used several companies to facilitate shipments of Iranian oil to foreign customers”.
Included in the action was Bravery Maritime Corporation, an entity based in Liberia and Dubai, which the Treasury says is controlled by al-Habsi. The vessel is a crude oil tanker called the Oman Pride, which OFAC has identified as a property in which the company “has an interest”. It is also alleged to have “been used to transport Iranian oil”.
It was revealed that Ramon Abbas, a Nigerian social media influencer better known as “Hushpuppi”, pleaded guilty in US court to charges of fraud and money laundering in April 2021. News of the plea emerged in a federal indictment unsealed by the DoJ on 28th July, which also brought charges against six other individuals connected to the case, three of whom are African nationals.
The targets are accused of defrauding over $1.1m from a Qatari construction financier, before laundering the proceeds through the global financial system. It is alleged that Hushpuppi conspired with Abdulrahman Imraan Juma, of Kenya, and Kelly Chibuzor Vincent, of Nigeria, as well as another US-based individual, to commit the fraud. The former is then believed to have laundered the funds with the assistance of two other US-based individuals. While the American persons have been arrested, both Juma and Vincent remain wanted by US authorities.
The sixth individual indicted is Abba Kyari, a “highly decorated” deputy commissioner of the Nigeria Police Force. Following a dispute between members of the syndicate, Vincent apparently tipped off the victim regarding the fraud committed against him, after which Hushpuppi is believed to have arranged for the former to be jailed in Nigeria by Kyari. It is further alleged that the deputy commissioner sent Hushpuppi bank details for payment in return for carrying out his request.
Following the unsealing of the indictment, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a warrant for Kyari’s arrest. He has also been suspended by the Nigerian Police Service Commission, which is investigating the allegations. It is currently unclear whether the deputy commissioner, who denies the accusations against him, will be extradited to the US to face charges.
Kyari is known in Nigeria as a “super cop” who investigates prominent criminal cases and rubs shoulders with politicians and celebrities. Amongst other awards for his service, he has received a presidential medal of courage after his team rescued three kidnapped girls in Lagos in 2016. However, he is also a controversial figure, having faced accusations of extortion and personally benefiting from confiscated assets.
Hushpuppi is a social media star with 2.5m followers on Instagram, famous for posing in pictures showcasing his supposed wealth. He was arrested in Dubai in June 2020, following investigations into schemes of alleged fraud “on a global scale”, worth in the region of £352m. The following month, he was transferred to the US to face charges. He is also wanted by Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
In an unrelated case, the DoJ also indicted three men from Maryland on federal charges related to the alleged exportation of firearms and ammunition from the US to Nigeria. The indictment, which was returned on 27th August, claims that the operation took place between 2017 and 2019. According to the DoJ, the trio were exporting items identified as being on the US Munitions List (USML) and Commerce Control List (CCL).
Having not obtained the appropriate export licences from the relevant authorities, the defendants are accused of attempting to conceal the items’ shipment. It is believed that the intended destinations for the shipment were Nigeria and “at least one other [unspecified] location in Africa”.
On 6th July, Interpol issued an international arrest warrant for Karim Keïta, reportedly at the request of a magistrate in Bamako. The target, who is a former Malian lawmaker and son of former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, is wanted over the disappearance of an investigative journalist in 2016. He is believed to be in Côte d’Ivoire, where he has been living since the August 2020 coup which toppled his father’s administration.
Elsewhere, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) renewed its Mali sanctions regime until 31st August 2022. As part of the same action, which took place on 30th August, the mandate of the associated panel of experts was extended until 30th September 2022. The regime was first declared in 2017 to target those hindering progress towards peace in Mali. It was last renewed in August 2020.
In a similar action, President Joe Biden continued the US national emergency with respect to Mali by another 12 months on 20th July. The emergency, which had been due to expire on 26th July, has been determined to continue to pose an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy” of the US. It was first declared by President Donald Trump in 2019 and was last renewed in July 2020.
Separately, France resumed joint military operations with Mali, which had been suspended since June 2021, following the previous month’s military coup. However, this action does not mean that France is reversing the recent decision to draw down its related mission, Operation Barkhane.
The US State Department has offered up to $5m as a reward for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Antonio Indjai, the former head of Guinea-Bissau’s armed forces. The target, who is accused of participating in the country’s April 2012 coup, has been subject to a UNSC travel ban since May 2012. Responding to the State Department’s bounty, which was announced on 19th August, the Bissau-Guinean government ruled out any extradition to the US, adding that he remains at liberty in Guinea-Bissau.
Indjai is wanted by the US for the alleged “active part” he played in drug trafficking and “using illegal proceeds to corrupt and destabilize other foreign governments”. Indictments filed in New York in December 2012 and January 2013 charged him and others with crimes of “narcoterrorism”, due to alleged conspiracy between Bissau-Guinean officials and members of the former guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The target oversaw the April 2012 coup which took place before the second round of that year’s presidential election in Guinea-Bissau. He had previously assumed his position in the armed forces following a mutiny against his predecessor in June 2010. In September 2014, then-President José Mário Vaz dismissed Indjai, amid pressure to crack down on military members accused of turning Guinea-Bissau into a “narco-state”.
Elsewhere, Bion Na Tchongo and Paulo Sunsai were removed from the European Union’s sanctions regime concerning Guinea-Bissau on 5th August. Both were amongst the 15 individuals sanctioned by the EU in June 2012 for being part of the Military Command which carried out the April 2012 coup. The de-listings were mirrored by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) on 24th August.
Bion Na Tchongo, a former navy commander and chief of naval intelligence, died last year, shortly after assuming the post of commissioner of Guinea-Bissau’s Public Order Police, which is part of the interior ministry. It is not clear why Sunsai, a former captain and assistant to the military commander for the North province, was de-listed. Both had their OFSI sanctions lifted upon the UK’s exit from the EU on 31st December 2020, after the British government decided against continuing the Guinea-Bissau list.
On 19th July, the International Criminal Court (ICC) closed its case against Simone Gbagbo, the wife of former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo. The charges against her – four counts of crimes against humanity, allegedly committed during the 2010-2011 post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire – were dropped after the ICC’s prosecutor requested that her arrest warrant be withdrawn in June 2021.
The ICC issued the warrant for Ms Gbagbo in May 2012, after the prosecutor deemed her individually responsible for crimes committed by the Ivorian Defence and Security Forces (FDS) in the aftermath of the 2010 election. However, after her husband was acquitted at his ICC trial in January 2019 and had the verdict upheld on appeal in March 2021, the prosecutor no longer believed it had a reasonable prospect of proving the case against her.
Instead of extraditing Ms Gbagbo to The Hague to face trial by the ICC, the Ivorian government instead opted to try her in the country, on charges of undermining state security. In March 2015, she was convicted and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment, before being pardoned in August 2018 by President Alassane Ouattara.
Central African Republic
The UNSC extended its sanctions regime concerning the Central African Republic (CAR) by another year on 29th July. The embargo was initially imposed in December 2013, after the Séléka rebel coalition overthrew President François Bozizé during CAR’s civil war. It was last renewed in July 2020.
On 19th July, the EU renewed its counter-terror regime for another six months. The list, which contains 14 individuals and 21 groups and entities, was first established by the Council of the EU in 2001, in order to sanction those allegedly involved in global terrorism. The only African target named on it is al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, a Sunni Islamist group which was linked to several assassinations and attacks in Egypt during the 1990s. This regime was last renewed in February 2021.
The EU and SECO both de-listed former Libyan general Tohami Khaled on 29th July and 13th August, respectively. The target was reported to have died in Cairo in February 2021. Nevertheless, he remains wanted by the ICC, which has not yet verified claims of his death.