A Somali court has sentenced four Ministry of Health officials accused of stealing funds meant to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, HIV/AIDS and malaria in the country for between three to 18 years in prison and slapped fines on them.
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 Banadir Regional Court sentenced the Director General of the Ministry of Health, Abdullahi Hashi Ali, 61 years old, to 9 years in prison and as also ordered to pay a fine of $2,366.
The Director of Administration and Finance at the Ministry of Health, Mohamud Bule Mohamud, 52 years old, was sentenced to 18 years in jail and was also ordered to pay a fine of $2,366.
The Head of Finance for Health Promotion Programme at the Ministry of Health, Mahdi Abshir Mohamed, 30 years old, was sentenced to 12 years in prison and was ordered to pay a fine of $2,366.
The Head of Finance for Malaria and HIV/AIDS Programmes at the Ministry of Health, Bashir Abdi Nur, 34 years old, was sentenced to 3 years and was ordered to pay a fine of $1,183.
The court also acquitted five other suspects for lack of evidence linking them to any crime.
The verdict is the harshest given to senior government officials in Somalia in recent years.
Somali court sentences health minister 9 years in jail for stealing Covid-19 funds
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, but appealed for more from donors.
The Federal Minister for Health, Dr Fawzia Abikar Nur, told the media there would be a thorough audit.