Oil and power leave whistleblower imprisoned, tortured, and in hiding
“The corrupt activities were against my individual values and as well as my professional ethics. As a chartered accountant, I am supposed to be ethical, have high levels of integrity and must be honest. I am supposed to be fair in all the dealings and ensure that all transactions are done at arm’s length.”Biswick Kaswaswa
Biswick Kaswaswa, a Malawian national and former Financial Manager at Trinity Energy Company Ltd – the largest privately owned energy company in South Sudan – believed to have uncovered a complete lack of financial management regulations and policies within the company shortly after his appointment in 2018. When Kaswaswa began working to improve the system, he experienced resistance and was ultimately forced out of the company. Kaswaswa was arbitrarily arrested and detained, tortured and forced into hiding. His revelations helped US-based investigative Non-Governmental Organisation The Sentry reveal red flags for illicit business practices, including bribery, tax evasion, and trade-based money laundering.
Kaswaswa, is a Professional Chartered Certified Accountant, and has a long and distinguished career in auditing, taxation, management, and financial accounting, having worked as an accountant for multiple leading companies in this field. Kaswaswa was recruited by Trinity Energy Ltd and relocated to Juba, South Sudan, as a Financial Manager in 2018.
Kaswaswa’s profession necessitates integrity and accountability. However, his attempts to ensure an adequate level of professionalism within Trinity Energy Ltd were met with repudiation and retaliation. Shortly after his contract started, Kaswaswa uncovered what he believes to be a complete lack of financial management regulations and policies. In this regard, Kaswaswa issued a report to the Board of Directors, highlighting various key issues in the financial reporting and management of the company. One of the primary issues reported was a lack of audit trails, which extended to funds deposited into the bank. Furthermore, he reported that the company used the black market for illicit exchanges of United States Dollars (USD) to South Sudanese pounds and vice versa.
In light of the lack of financial regulations, Kaswaswa was given the go-ahead to start implementing proper financial management and reporting mechanisms. However, by October 2018, senior members of management rejected his changes. Kaswaswa began experiencing antagonism and was ultimately forced out of Trinity Energy Ltd.
“I blew the whistle and faced all the consequences. Although I went through a very painful process including incarceration in both Rwanda and South Sudan, PPLAAF supported me and is continuing to do so and I am very happy with their professional services and support,” – Biswick Kaswaswa
As a result of blowing the whistle, Kaswaswa experienced severe retaliation from his former employer.
Kaswaswa, fearing for his safety, left South Sudan. On 26 October 2018, as he was traveling to approach the Embassy of Malawi in Tanzania to explain Trinity’s illicit activities, Kaswaswa was arrested at Kigali International Airport in Rwanda, on the allegation of criminal breach of trust and the theft of USD 350,000 from the company.
On 7 December 2018, Kaswaswa was extradited to South Sudan where he was detained in official and unofficial detention centers, including a shipping container in Atlabara neighborhood, and the Juba Central Prison where he remained from February 2019 until March 2020. Kaswaswa was imprisoned in South Sudan for a total of sixteen months. Trinity, with the support of South Sudanese state security forces, tried to silence him with what Amnesty International deemeds to be arbitrary arrest and detention.
During his detention time in the National Security Service (NSS) at Atlabara and in South Sudan National Police Service (SSNPS) at Malakia, Kaswaswa was subjected to beatings during interrogations as well as death threats. Amnesty International qualified these actions, as torture and other forms of ill-treatment, violating South Sudan’s obligation under the Convention Against Torture and its national laws.
Kaswaswa told Amnesty International that “Some officers who started threatening me in [the] presence of the police. They introduced themselves as NSS and said we are going to cut you in pieces, we are going to throw you in a sack, and we are going to throw you in the Nile River. We know you took this money; you have to pay back this money. If you don’t pay back this money, we are going to kill you for sure. They were calling my brother, saying that he had to sell my properties in Malawi. They even called my brother. Then put me back in police cell. […] Then another day, another officer said if you don’t give back this money, we are going to put you in Blue House. If you go in Blue House, you will not come out, they will kill you.”
Kaswaswa remained detained until his release in March 2020. After a nearly year-long trial, the Country Court dismissed the case due to insufficient evidence.
The multiple attempts to silence Kaswaswa didn’t stop him from revealing the truth. Believing that the irregularities he witnessed at Trinity Energy Ltd. constitute a sophisticated and intricate money laundering scheme,he actively helped The Sentry investigate the scheme within the company. They published an investigative report in February 2023, showing that, with the support of the South Sudanese Government, a loan deal between Trinity and a regional bank, “enabled powerful individuals to benefit from the manipulation of business worth hundreds of millions of dollars.”
PPLAAF has ensured that Kaswaswa receives the necessary legal and security assistance on a continuous basis and has facilitated his psycho-social support. Pusetso Morapedi, PPLAAF’s Southern Africa Director, stated that “Biswick has been abducted, detained, and tortured in an effort to silence him for doing the right thing as a chartered accountant respecting ethics”.
PPLAAF is a non-governmental organisation established in 2017 to protect whistleblowers, as well as to advocate and engage in strategic litigation on their behalf when their revelations deal with the general interests of African citizens.
For additional information:
“Systematic harassment of civil society, journalists, private sector and critics by South Sudan’s intelligence agency”, Public Statement AFR 65/2727/2020, July 17, 2020.
“Malawian released from South Sudan jail after 16 months torture in Juba”, Osman Faiti, April 13th, 2020.