KHARTOUM, (Reuters) – An Australian man was convicted in a Sudanese court of murdering a Ukrainian national found hanged from a towel rack in the southern town of Rumbek, British and Australian officials said on Tuesday. “The man in question has been convicted but he has not been sentenced,” a British diplomat in Khartoum told Reuters. The British embassy has been providing consular assistance to the man because Australia has no embassy in the country.
The officials said George Forbes and two Kenyan co-defendants were convicted of the murder on Monday. All three work for a Kenyan construction company in Rumbek where the Ukrainian man’s body was found. One official said a Sudanese man was also convicted.
Under Sudanese law, the men could face the death penalty. Officials said the court was seeking contact with the Ukrainian man’s family before sentencing, and that it was possible the men could get a lesser penalty including paying compensation money.
The men were “shocked and surprised” by the verdict, said Ian Ruff, a Juba-based British consular official in Rumbek for the trial.
A spokesman for Australia’s Foreign Affairs department said he expected that Forbes “will be consulting his legal advisers about the options for an appeal”.
Peter Angore, the Kenyan Acting Consular General in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan, has said the findings of two independent post mortem reports concluded that the death was suicide. But he said local authorities had rejected the results.
Forbes complained during the trial that he had not been allowed to submit evidence that the death was a result of suicide. The family of the Ukrainian man has asked that the matter be dropped, according to Rumbek’s deputy governor. But Ruff said a request to drop the matter needed to be made formally by the Ukrainian embassy in Khartoum.
The Ukrainian man, a flight engineer for another firm, had been admitted into the Kenyan company’s compound because several locals were chasing him for reasons that were unclear, sources close to the case said.
Australia’s ambassador to Cairo, who is also accredited for Sudan, was on his way to Rumbek to offer consular assistance.
The Australian and the Kenyans are among a wave of foreigners who have poured in to south Sudan since a 2005 peace deal ended over two decades of north-south civil war, paving the way for reconstruction of its tattered infrastructure.