“I’m Like Donald Trump.” Meet the South Sudan ‘Billionaire’ Whose Stepfather Is Accused of Making Money Out of War

Lawrence Lual Malong Yor 2
A screenshot from a Facebook video posted by Lawrence Lual Malong Yor Jr. shows him lying on a bed along with what he says is $1 million in $100 bills. Lawrence Lual Malong Yor Jr./Facebook

Updated | He’s got a penchant for flashy suits and first-class flights, and is the apparent stepson of South Sudan’s ex-army general who is accused of orchestrating massive violence in the world’s youngest country. He’s also a self-professed “diehard” fan of President Donald J. Trump.

Lawrence Lual Malong Yor Jr. is a controversial figure. He claims to be a self-made billionaire working on behalf of the embattled people of South Sudan, which has been engulfed by war for over three years and teetering on the edge of famine.

But an investigative unit backed by George Clooney has questioned whether Lual's wealth was earned legitimately or through privileged access to the country’s top officials, including President Salva Kiir.

Lual posted a video on Facebook on Sunday in which he filmed himself lying on a bed covered in $100 bills; he claimed that there was $1 million total on the bed which, he said, was in a “presidential suite” in an undisclosed location. During the video, Lual—who calls himself "Young Tycoon"—claims to have donated $5 million to the Kenya Red Cross and the South Sudan Red Cross respectively, and made other million-dollar donations to churches in Juba and Nairobi.

(Newsweek contacted both branches of the Red Cross for confirmation. Noellah Musundi, public relations manager at the Kenya Red Cross, told Newsweek: “The claims in the video are not correct…We are following up on this false claim, which is misleading and malicious.” John Mayom, the head of communications at the South Sudan Red Cross, told Newsweek: “I’m not aware of that donation, and I should be the first person to know about it.” Newsweek reached out to Lual for comment but received no immediate reply.)

In the Facebook video, Lual addressed his critics, saying there were many “great people” who showed off their wealth. He cited Trump as an example.

“Donald J. Trump is the world’s greatest president, and he’s the world’s greatest man. And he’s someone who likes to show off that he’s rich. He always says: ‘I’m very wealthy, I’m very rich.’ I’m like Donald Trump,” said Lual.

Lual certainly appears to share Trump’s taste for luxury. The South Sudanese businessman frequently posts pictures of himself wearing brightly colored suits, relaxing in presidential suites and generally appearing to have a lot more money than most South Sudanese people. (Four in five of the country’s population live on less than $1 per day.) In several pictures he is seen traveling in what appears to be the first-class section of a plane, but the pictures are captioned with messages such as: “Smart boy for life enjoying first class.but am thinking how to help my County [sic].”

His social media record also shows him meeting with various people of note, including FIFA chief Gianni Infantino, Los Angeles Lakers star Luol Deng (who was born in what is now South Sudan) and President Kiir.

It is Lual’s relationship with Kiir and other power players in South Sudan that has drawn the most attention. The country, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, plunged into civil war in December 2013, after President Kiir accused his then-deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup.

The violence has worsened and taken on an ethnic dimension: Kiir hails from the majority Dinka, while Machar is a Nuer. Thousands of people have been killed; soldiers and rebels have brutally raped and abused civilians, displacing more than 2 million; and parts of South Sudan have experienced famine in recent months.

One of the key figures in South Sudan’s civil war is Paul Malong Awan, who served as the head of South Sudan’s army from 2014 until he was dismissed by Kiir in May. A 2016 U.N. panel of experts found that Malong was part of a “narrow circle of senior individuals in the military and security services” around President Kiir who were “waging an aggressive war involving the targeting of civilians and extensive destruction of communities.”

Lual was described as the “apparent stepson” of the former army chief in a September 2016 report by The Sentry, an investigative unit co-founded by Clooney. Two unnamed sources told The Sentry that Lual’s mother had married Malong after his biological father passed away, and Lual referred to Malong as his “dad” during conversations with Sentry investigators.

The report said that Lual was active in South Sudan’s mining sector and has ties to companies involved in the mining of gold and diamonds, among other minerals. In apparent contravention of South Sudanese law, Lual said he did not have to go through a public-tender process to secure mining contracts, explaining that this was due to a lack of competition, and denying that he benefited from his apparent relationship to Malong and closeness to Kiir. But he also said that when he had a mining proposal, “we register a local company, and my dad and the president will be involved.” Lual said that such involvement simply meant that the president and ex-army chief helped expedite government approval for mining projects.

This article originally incorrectly referred to Lawrence Lual Malong Yor Jr, as the son of General Paul Malong Awan. He is actually General Malong's stepson.