Sudan closes door on Hamas support after Bashir fall
KHARTOUM, Sept. 23 (Reuters) – Sudanese authorities have taken control of lucrative assets that have supported Hamas for years, highlighting how the country has served as a safe haven for the Palestinian militant group led by the former leader Omar al-Bashir.
The takeover of at least a dozen companies that officials said were linked to Hamas has helped accelerate Sudan’s realignment with the West since Bashir’s overthrow in 2019. Over the past year , Khartoum has been delisted from the list of US states that support terrorism (SST) and is on track for over $ 50 billion in debt relief.
Hamas lost a foreign base where its members and supporters could live, fundraise, and channel Iranian weapons and funds to the Gaza Strip, Sudanese and Palestinian analysts said.
The seized assets detailed by official Sudanese sources and a Western intelligence source show the reach of these networks.
According to officials of a task force set up to dismantle Bashir’s regime, they include real estate, company shares, a hotel in a prime Khartoum location, a bureau de change, a TV station and more. a million acres of farmland.
Sudan has become a center of money laundering and terrorist financing, said Wagdi Salih, one of the main members of the task force – the Committee to dismantle the June 30, 1989 regime and recover public funds.
The system was “a big blanket, a big umbrella, inside and out,” he said.
A Western intelligence source said techniques common to organized crime were used in Sudan: companies were run by fiduciary shareholders, rents collected in cash, and transfers made through exchange bureaus.
Bashir openly supported Hamas and was friends with its leaders.
“They were granted preferential treatment in tenders, tax exemption, and they were allowed to be transferred to Hamas and Gaza without limits,” said a member of the task force, speaking under the guise of ‘anonymity.
Sudan’s journey from pariah to US ally has been gradual. In the decade since Bashir came to power in 1989, the country became a hub for radical Islamists, housed Osama bin Laden for several years, and was sanctioned by the United States for its links with Palestinian activists.
Bashir then tried to distance himself from outright Islamism, stepping up his security cooperation with Washington. In 2016, Sudan severed relations with Iran and the following year US trade sanctions against Khartoum were dropped after Washington accepted that state support for Hamas had ceased.
But until the fall of Bashir, the networks that had supported Hamas remained in place.
Hamas’s investments in Sudan began with small-scale businesses such as fast food restaurants before venturing into real estate and construction, according to a task force official.
An example was Hassan and Alabed, which started out as a cement company and expanded into large real estate developments.
The task force says it was part of a network with a dozen other large companies with linked actions linked to Bashir’s ally Abdelbasit Hamza, who transferred large sums through foreign bank accounts.
The largest was Alrowad Real Estate Development, established in 2007 and listed on the Khartoum Stock Exchange, with subsidiaries that the Western intelligence source said were laundering money and exchanging currencies to fund Hamas.
Hamza was jailed in April for 10 years for corruption and sent to Khartoum prison where Bashir is being held. The task force said it had assets worth up to $ 1.2 billion to its name. Hamza’s attorney, who also represents Bashir, could not be reached for comment.
A second network, worth up to $ 20 million, revolved around broadcaster Tayba and an associated charity named Almishkat. It was run by two Hamas operatives who obtained citizenship and amassed businesses and real estate, according to Maher Abouljokh, the guard brought in to manage Tayba. The TV station channeled money from the Gulf, laundered millions of dollars and had clear ties to Hamas, Abouljokh said.
Contacted by Reuters, Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri denied that the group had invested in Sudan, but acknowledged the impact of political change in Sudan: “Unfortunately, several measures have weakened the presence of the movement (Hamas) in the country. (Sudan) and limited political ties with it, ”he said.
Last year, Sudan desperately sought to evade the SST list, a prerequisite for debt relief and support from international lenders.
Under pressure from the United States, it joined with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco in agreeing to normalize relations with Israel – although it has moved slowly to implement the agreement.
A former U.S. diplomat who worked on Sudan under the Trump administration said shutting down the Hamas network was at the center of negotiations with Khartoum. “We were pushing on an open door,” he said.
The United States has given Sudan a list of businesses to shut down, according to a Sudanese source and a Western intelligence source. The State Department declined to comment.
Many Hamas-affiliated figures traveled to Turkey with cash but left about 80 percent of their investments behind, the task force official said.
Sudanese transitional leaders “see themselves as the exact antithesis of Bashir in regional terms,” Sudanese analyst Magdi El Gazouli said. “They want to sell themselves as part of the new security order in the region.”
“The coup against al-Bashir has caused real problems for Hamas and Iran,” said Palestinian analyst Adnan Abu Amer. “Hamas and Iran had to look for alternatives – alternatives that had not been in place because the coup against al-Bashir was sudden.”
Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz and Nafisa Eltahir in Khartoum, John Irish in Paris, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Arshad Mohamed in Washington and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Written by Aidan Lewis and Nafisa Eltahir; Editing by Giles Elgood
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