UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh is alleged to have amassed assets worth between $32 billion and $60 billion, most believed to have been transferred abroad under other names, U.N. experts said in a report circulated Wednesday.
The experts, who monitor U.N. sanctions ordering all countries to freeze the assets of Saleh and two Houthi rebel leaders, said the ex-president's assets are believed to include property, cash, shares, gold and other valuable commodities in at least 20 countries.
Saleh, who was president of the Arab world's poorest country for 33 years, was forced from power after Yemen's 2011 Arab Spring revolt.
"The origin of the funds used to generate Ali Abdullah Saleh's wealth is believed to be partly from his corrupt practices as president of Yemen, particularly relating to gas and oil contracts where he reportedly asked for money in exchange for granting companies exclusive rights to prospect for gas and oil in Yemen," the experts said.
The panel of experts said in the report to the U.N. Security Council that Saleh, his family and associates allegedly stole money from a fuel subsidy program which uses up to 10 percent of Yemen's gross domestic product, as well as other ventures involving extortion, embezzlement and abuse of power.
"The result of these illegal activities for private gain is estimated to have amounted to nearly $2 billion a year over the last three decades," the panel said. "Many have argued that the country's spiraling debt and economic problems would be alleviated with a repatriation of these alleged stolen assets."
The report noted that Saleh had many years to hide his alleged assets — especially after the possibility of sanctions against him was raised nearly a year ago — using front companies or individuals acting on his behalf. The panel said five prominent Yemeni businessmen are believed to have helped him.
The experts said they are continuing their investigation into connections with these five people and other individuals believed to be assisting the Saleh family to remove funds from banks in Yemen and deposit them overseas. The panel said it is also conducting investigations into a number of private and publicly listed companies inside and outside Yemen where it is believed Saleh "may be the beneficial owner of investments."
Saleh is widely believed to be a key behind-the-scenes player in the current turmoil in Yemen following the takeover of the capital Sanaa and much of the north by the Houthi Shiite rebels.
The Houthis put Saleh's successor, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, under house arrest last month. Hadi quit the presidency but retracted the resignation after recently fleeing to Aden in the once-independent south, where he appears to be establishing a base. The Houthis said Tuesday that Hadi is "wanted for justice."
The U.N. experts said numerous sources alleged that Saleh has looted weapons and other state property since Hadi dismissed him as commander of the Republican Guard in December 2012. When the panel confronted Saleh with these allegations during a meeting last August, it said the ex-president denied involvement.