A part-nationalised British bank has said there is "no evidence" to back claims exposed in leaked US diplomatic cables that Sudan's president may have stolen £5.8 billion from his country and deposited it in London.
A document among tens of thousands released by the WikiLeaks website reported the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court asserting that Lloyds Banking Group "may be holding or knowledgeable of the whereabouts of his money".
In the cable, a US official says that Luis Moreno-Ocampo discussed the possible stash of money days after issuing an arrest warrant for president Omar Bashir, who has been indicted by the ICC on several counts of war crimes and genocide.
A Sudanese government spokesman told The Guardian - which has been publishing the WikiLeaks material - that the claim the president had taken the cash was "ludicrous" and attacked the motives of the prosecutor.
Lloyds insisted it was not aware of any link with Bashir. "We have absolutely no evidence to suggest there is any connection between Lloyds Banking Group and Mr Bashir. The group's policy is to abide by the legal and regulatory obligations in all jurisdictions in which we operate," a spokeswoman said.
In the cable reporting the conversation, the US official wrote: "Ocampo suggested if Bashir's stash of money were disclosed (he put the figure at $9bn), it would change Sudanese public opinion from him being a 'crusader' to that of a thief.
"Ocampo reported Lloyds bank in London may be holding or knowledgeable of the whereabouts of his money," the cable said. "Ocampo suggested exposing Bashir had illegal accounts would be enough to turn the Sudanese against him."
Dr Khalid al-Mubarak, spokesman at the Sudanese embassy in London, told The Guardian: "To claim that the president can control the treasury and take money to put into his own accounts is ludicrous. It is a laughable claim by the ICC prosecutor. Ocampo is a maverick, and this is just part of his political agenda.
"Attempts to smear not only Bashir but Sudan as a whole are well known, and are clearly linked with anti-Arab sentiments and Islamophobia," Dr Mubarak added.
Robert Palmer of anti-corruption group Global Witness said: ""If this allegation by the ICC prosecutor is accurate, it appears that a UK high street bank bailed out by the Government is holding billions controlled by an indicted war criminal, or at the very least would be able to help trace any funds. If this story is true, I'd like to know what controls Lloyds put in place to ensure that the funds were legitimate - and I'm sure the Sudanese people would as well."