JUBA (AFP) – South Sudanese President Salva Kiir has suspended two of his most senior and influential ministers to launch investigations into an alleged multi-million dollar corruption scandal, official documents published Wednesday showed.
The presidential order has lifted the immunity of Minister of Cabinet Affairs Deng Alor and Minister of Finance Kosti Manibe, powerful leaders of the young nation.
Both face questioning by a special investigation committee "into the alleged unprocedural transfer" of some eight million dollars (six million euros) to a company called Daffy Investment Group.
The money was allegedly transferred to buy special anti-fire safes for government offices, but it is not clear if any of the safes have arrived.
Oil-rich but war-ravaged South Sudan, which gained formal independence from Sudan in July 2011, is one of the poorest countries on earth.
It was left in ruins after five decades of conflict between southern rebels and successive governments in Sudan, with South Sudan now struggling with some of the worst development indicators of any nation on earth.
Both Alor and Manibe "shall cease their functions from the coming into force of this order," the order added.
Last year Kiir wrote to 75 past and present officials demanding they return $4 billion dollars of public money they were accused of pocketing in private bank accounts.
Letters were also sent to heads of states in regional nations as well as in Europe, the Middle East and the United States asking for support to return the cash.
Much of the stolen funds were part of the "dura" scandal, when large-scale government orders were made for sorghum grain which allegedly never arrived.
Kiir's move to investigate top officials and claw back stolen cash comes as the young nation's economy struggles following stalled oil flows through former civil war foe Sudan to the north, with the oil formerly making up almost the entire government budget.
It also follows efforts by Kiir to rein in his top officials, and follows orders in April to clip the powers of his vice-president, Riek Machar.
Alor, from the flashpoint Abyei region claimed by Sudan and South Sudan, is from the powerful Dinka Ngok ethnic group and served alongside Kiir when he was still a rebel leader.
Alor also served as foreign minister of a united Sudan before the South broke away from the North and is one of the most senior figures in government.
Manibe hails from the Zande group in Western Equatoria.
Anti-corruption commission chief John Gatwich will head the investigation, which has 60 days to submit its findings to Kiir, the order added.
If fraud is found by the committee, criminal charges and prosecution will follow, the order said.