Press Release / / 10.19.20

Sentry Report: France vs. Russia Proxy War in Central African Republic

New Report by The Sentry, “State of Prey”:

Battle Over Diamonds, Gold, and US Dollars as France vs. Russia Proxy War Breaks Out in the Central African Republic

 

Facing a Corruption-Riven Election, Foreign Election Interference, Political Exploitation of COVID-19, and an Onslaught of Foreign and Domestic Profiteers, CAR Becomes a Hotbed for Organized Crime, Trafficking, and Terror Financing

October 19, 2020 (Washington, D.C. / Paris) – Transnational organized crime and terror financing is on the rise and thriving in the Central African Republic (CAR), fueled by high-level corruption, political exploitation of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a violent proxy war between pro-French and pro-Russian actors seeking to loot the country’s lucrative natural resources, according to a new report released today by The Sentry.

The Sentry’s report, “State of Prey: Proxies, Predators, and Profiteers in the Central African Republic,” details the proliferation of money laundering and trafficking in gold, diamonds, weapons, diplomatic passports, and drugs and warns of regional and international security concerns as the country hurtles toward an uncertain presidential election.

Nathalia Dukhan, Senior Investigator at The Sentry, said: “The Central African Republic is more divided than ever. The greatest threat to peace and security now is not the religious or ethnic division on the surface, but the silent, devastating proxy war driven by pro-French and pro-Russian actors. With elections just two months away, foreign powers are interfering in domestic politics and sowing conflict in a competition to strip the country of its treasure and gain geostrategic advantage in this part of the continent. Amid the chaos and corruption unleashed by this power struggle, the country has turned into a breeding ground for crime networks and mafia-like armed militias.”

John Prendergast, Co-Founder of The Sentry, said: “The international community has for too long tried to cajole the warring parties into doing less harm, while turning a blind eye to the violent looting of a nation by predatory domestic and foreign actors. Relying on the false hope of a corrupt electoral process and the deeply flawed Khartoum agreement will guarantee a deadly status quo, as criminals will continue to rip CAR to pieces and profit from its dismemberment. However, financial tools of pressure and hard-hitting actions by governments and the global banking sector can create leverage for peace, and that’s where the international community needs to focus its urgent attention.”

The report spotlights the role of predatory foreign forces, notably an alliance between the regime of CAR’s President Faustin-Archange Touadéra and the Wagner Group, a Russian state-linked security enterprise. Exposed for supporting armed groups accused of abuses against civilians in CAR, the Wagner Group is led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Saint Petersburg oligarch known as “Putin’s Chef” due to his close links with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Hilary Mossberg, Director of Illicit Finance Policy at The Sentry, said: “The activity of organized criminal groups, drug traffickers, entities under international sanctions, and destabilizers of peace, including illicit transactions and pay-offs in US dollars, means that international financial institutions with ties to the region must apply extra scrutiny to transactions and customer due diligence. It’s imperative that banks and businesses with ties to CAR’s natural resource sectors remain vigilant for corrupt actors and illicit financial transactions and do their part to prevent further conflict in the country.”

Key report findings:

  • The regime has exploited the pandemic as Touadéra and his allies sought to declare a state of emergency in order to indefinitely delay the elections and extend both his mandate and that of lawmakers.
  • Touadéra’s circle paid nearly 300 million CFA francs (approximately $510,000) in bribes to lawmakers backing a constitutional amendment to extend the presidential term. The Constitutional Court ultimately rejected what the opposition termed an attempted electoral coup. As a result, allegations of massive fraud have marred voter registration.
  • As part of an attempt to eliminate an armed faction threatening Touadéra’s reelection plans, the regime and its Russian ally the Wagner Group, a state-linked security enterprise that implements the Kremlin’s foreign policy, supported armed groups accused of abuses against civilians.
  • The CAR government allegedly allowed about 80 Sudanese mercenaries into the country commanded by Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman, known as Ali Kushayb, who stands accused by the International Criminal Court of forming and leading the notorious Janjaweed militia that participated in the Darfur genocide in Sudan in 2002 and 2003.
  • In order to counter efforts by Touadéra and his Russian ally to maintain a grip on power, some French networks have activated their regional and local networks, including armed groups, to prevent Touadéra’s reelection and return pro-French leaders to the helm of the state.
  • In just five years, Touadéra has turned CAR into a breeding ground for transnational organized crime. Powerful businesspeople work in the shadows to get the Central African president reelected. They include individuals involved in money laundering and the trafficking of natural resources, drugs, weapons, and diplomatic passports.

Key report recommendations:

For the UN Security Council, European Union, and their member states

  • End support for the implementation of the Khartoum accord. Stop political support of and financing for initiatives that fuel government corruption, the war economy, and impunity, such as aid meant to implement the Khartoum agreement. Instead, support an innovative process based on international, regional, and national dialogue in order to provide a framework for responding to the many challenges resulting from the proxy war.
  • Ensure elections are effectively transparent and democratic. Ensure a vigorous audit of the entire electoral process by an independent body, hold the Central African government accountable, and secure the participation of civil society. If the elections are marred by major fraud, suspend recognition of the legitimacy of the future Central African government, shift funding priorities, and suspend budget support.
  • Target entire networks that systematically destabilize crisis response initiatives and have links to transnational organized crime. Investigate and, where appropriate, impose targeted network sanctions on individuals and entities, with a focus on government officials and international facilitators connected to transnational organized crime networks.
  • Effectively combat the trafficking of minerals from conflict zones in CAR. The EU should ensure the effective implementation of its new conflict minerals legislation, which comes into force in January 2021, with a focus on ending the trafficking of gold from Central African conflict zones to the EU. The UN Security Council should include concrete measures targeting the war economy and criminal networks in the mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).
  • Prosecute economic and financial crimes. Support CAR’s Special Criminal Court, the International Criminal Court, and other national jurisdictions in investigating and prosecuting financial crimes.

For banks and financial institutions

  • Combat organized crime networks. Financial institutions operating in CAR or with affiliates in CAR should conduct enhanced monitoring for transactions involving transnational organized crime networks, particularly those with close ties to the natural resource sector, and submit suspicious activity reports to financial intelligence units as appropriate.

Read the full report: https://thesentry.org/reports/state-of-prey/

For media inquiries or interview requests, please contact: Greg Hittelman, Director of Communications, +1 310 717 0606, gh@thesentry.org

ABOUT THE SENTRY

The Sentry is an investigative and policy team that follows the dirty money connected to African war criminals and transnational war profiteers and seeks to shut those benefiting from violence out of the international financial system. By disrupting the cost-benefit calculations of those who hijack governments for self-enrichment in East and Central Africa, the deadliest war zone globally since World War II, we seek to counter the main drivers of conflict and create new leverage for peace, human rights, and good governance. The Sentry is composed of financial investigators, international human rights lawyers, and regional experts, as well as former law enforcement agents, intelligence officers, policymakers, investigative journalists, and banking professionals. Co-founded by George Clooney and John Prendergast, The Sentry is a strategic partner of the Clooney Foundation for Justice.

Learn more at www.TheSentry.org.