Sanctions Watch: Spotlight on Individuals Sanctioned for Serious Corruption

 11.07.2024 Website update

The first half of 2024 saw nine new individuals fall under various sanction systems for corrupt acts. With this latest update to the Sanctions Watch website, we are highlighting some particularly notorious cases. 

Updates summary

Several jurisdictions have imposed anti-corruption sanctions on high-ranking public officials accused of embezzling funds from their citizens. These measures aim to prevent the officials from hiding their ill-gotten wealth and to enable law enforcement agencies to investigate and recover the stolen assets. In the past six months, two notable jurisdictions have updated their sanction lists: the US Global Magnitsky Sanction regime and the UK Global Anti-Corruption Sanctions regime.

The United States remains the most active jurisdiction in imposing sanctions. Under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, the US has designated six individuals in the past six months, the majority of whom are from Zimbabwe, following the cessation of the specific Zimbabwe sanctions program. Meanwhile, one individual, a Dominican allegedly linked to the Odebrecht case, has been delisted.

The United Kingdom, which implemented its anti-corruption sanctions regime in 2021, expanded its sanction list once between January and June 2024, adding three individuals from Uganda.

Additionally, the EU Misappropriation sanctions have removed three individuals from its list, all of whom were associated with the former ruling Ben Ali family in Tunisia.

Gold trafficking and Zimbabwe’s presidential couple

At the beginning of the year, the most notable sanction under the US Magnitsky Act targeted the current President of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, and his wife, First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa. This is not their first encounter with US sanctions, as both were previously subject to the specific Zimbabwe sanctions program, which was abolished in March this year. Consequently, all individuals and properties under this specific program were released from any legal action related to the US blockade.

However, the ruling couple has now been transitioned to the Global Magnitsky sanctions regime due to their alleged involvement in grand corruption schemes involving gold and diamond smuggling. Mnangagwa is specifically accused of protecting gold and diamond smugglers operating in Zimbabwe, directing government officials to facilitate the sale of these precious resources in illicit markets, and accepting bribes for his services. A 2023 Al Jazeera investigation revealed that the Zimbabwean government used smuggling gangs to sell gold worth hundreds of millions of dollars despite the sanctions. Couriers would transport the gold to Dubai, where it would receive fake authentication and be sold in international markets. With special authorizations from high-ranking officials, the smugglers would re-enter Zimbabwe with large sums of money.

Through this vast money-laundering scheme, the impact of sanctions was mitigated, as gold is the country’s largest export. Emmerson Mnangagwa is also sanctioned for serious human rights abuses, including the repression of political opponents and civil society groups.

Uganda officials involved in the iron sheet affair

The three individuals targeted by the UK Global Anti-Corruption Sanctions regime are all linked to the iron sheet scandal in the Karamoja region of Uganda.

This scandal involves the diversion of a large portion of publicly funded roofing materials intended to support relief housing in the Karamoja region in 2022. Mary Goretti Kitutu and Agnes Nandutu, who were both ministers responsible for Karamoja at the time, are accused of stealing significant amounts of these materials for their own benefit and for the benefit of prominent politicians and their families. The Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda, Anita Annet Among, has been designated as one of these alleged recipients.

Kitutu and Nandutu are currently facing charges before the anti-corruption court in Uganda. Among denies the accusations, calling the sanctions a “witch-hunt” organized in reaction to her involvement in the Anti-Homosexuality Act, declared in 2023.

Blog written by Clara Czuppon, CiFAR