A Somali court on Monday sentenced four government officials to jail for having a hand in the theft of public funds meant for Covid-19 emergency response.
The Banadir Regional Court, which covers crimes committed in Mogadishu and surrounding locations, found the four guilty following a case that drew public scrutiny in the use of the funds.
The case arose in April, just a month after Somalia reported its first case of Covid-19. At that time, the Ministry of Health revealed that a number of officials were under investigation for diverting public money.
Court documents released on Monday did not indicate how much each of them stole but the Ministry of Health said in April that between $42,000 and $45,000 had been spent in unclear circumstances.
A written verdict read by the chief judge of the regions stated that the court found the officials guilty of committing corrupt acts and sentenced them to different terms as well as imposed varying fines.
The judge announced, “The court sentenced Abdullahi Hashi Ali, 61, the director-general of the Ministry of Health, to nine years of prison [and ordered him to pay] a fine amounting to Somali Sh 59,170,000 (about $2,366).”
Subsequently, the judge announced that Mohamoud Bulle Mohamoud, 52, the ministry’s director of administration, had been sentenced to 18 years in prison and also ordered him to pay a fine of $2,366.
The third convict, Mahdi Abshir Mohamed, 30, the head of a project called Wacyigelinta Caafimaadka (health awareness), was sentenced to 12 years in jail and will pay a fine of the same amount.
The fourth convict, 34-year-old Bashir Abdi Nur who heads the ministry’s malaria and HIV/AIDS department, was sentenced to three years in prison and asked to pay a fine of $1,183.
The judge said the four were not entitled to bail but had a right to appeal the sentences within 30 days.
It set five suspects free after finding no clear evidence of their wrongdoing.
The jailing of the officials could sound a rare warning in a country largely considered one of the most corrupt in Africa.
A 2019 report by watchdog Transparency International, the Corruption Perceptions Index, listed Somalia as the most corrupt of the 180 countries polled.
It scored nine out of 100 marks on governance, accountability and transparency.
By Monday, Somalia had reported 3,265 and 63 deaths due to the coronavirus.
The country allocated some $5 million to an emergency fund for COVID-19 but appealed for more from donors.
The Federal Minister for Health, Dr Fawzia Abikar Nur, told the media there would be a thorough audit.