South Sudan has expelled the head of the country’s largest oil firm, the Chinese and Malaysian-owned Petrodar, following an investigation into the “theft” of oil worth $815 million by neighboring Sudan, a minister said Wednesday.
“It is the first time in South Sudan’s history to expel (someone),” Minister of Information Barnaba Marial Benjamin said after Liu Yingcai, a Chinese national, was asked to leave the world’s newest country within 72 hours, the Agence France Presse reported.
South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July following a decades-long civil war in which some 1.5 million people died.
Oil makes up 98 percent of the South Sudanese Government’s budget, but its only export route is through its former foe. Juba has been relying on Sudanese pipelines and ports to transport up to 350,000 barrels a day for export.
More from GlobalPost: South Sudan halts oil production as talks falter
The countries have never reached agreement on how much South Sudan should pay Sudan for the transit of its oil, and in January Juba halted production after Sudan seized oil over what it claimed were unpaid transit fees, according to the BBC.
In a letter to Liu from South Sudan’s petroleum minister, Stephen Dhieu Dau, one of the reasons behind Liu’s expulsion was his decision to continue paying Sudan oil-transit fees using South Sudanese oil money without the government’s consent, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Before the shutdown, China was the biggest buyer of South Sudan’s oil, relying on it for nearly 5 percent of its needs. An important ally of President Omar al-Bashar’s government in Khartoum, it was viewed as a key player in persuading both sides to try to reach agreement over the oil crisis.
However, talks brokered by the African Union have gone nowhere, and last week South Sudan accused the north of stealing another 2.6 million barrels of crude.
More from GlobalPost: South Sudan and Sudan at brink again over oil