KHARTOUM: A network of Russian and Sudanese military leaders are colluding to plunder the African nation’s gold reserves and production, enabling Moscow to fund its ongoing war in Ukraine amidst increasingly severe Western sanctions, a CNN report published recently has claimed.
According to CNN’s sources, Russia allegedly operated 16 flights out of Sudan, Africa’s third largest producer of the precious metal, over the past 18 months.
CNN claimed a whistleblower from inside the Sudanese Central Bank showed reporters a photo of a spreadsheet revealing that 32.7 tons was unaccounted for in 2021. Using current prices, this amounts to $1.9 billion worth of missing gold, at $60 million a ton.
But the report stated that this could be an underestimate, and that $13.4 billion, or 90 percent of the country’s production, is lost through illegal means every year. CNN could not verify these figures in the report.
The CNN report claims that the scheme is the result of an agreement with Sudan’s increasingly unpopular military leadership in exchange for Russia’s military support to suppress the country’s pro-democracy movement.
Former and current US officials quoted by CNN claim that Russia actively supported Sudan’s 2021 military coup, which deposed a transitional civilian government.
This was a crushing blow to Sudan’s pro-democracy movement, which had toppled President Omar Al-Bashir two years before.
The CNN report claims that Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch and key ally of President Vladimir Putin, is at the heart of this pact between Moscow and Khartoum’s military junta.
The broadcaster claims it has invoices showing that Prigozhin’s main vehicle in Sudan is a US-sanctioned company called Meroe Gold, which extracts gold while also providing weapons and training to the country’s army and paramilitary groups.
The report, which CNN compiled in collaboration with the London-based Dossier Center, claims that at least one high-level Wagner Group operative, Alexander Sergeyevich Kuznetsov, has overseen operations in Sudan’s key gold mining industry in recent years.
The Dossier Center was started by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once the richest man in Russia, now living in exile in London. Wagner is a paramilitary group linked to alleged torture, mass killings and looting in several war-torn countries including Syria and the Central African Republic. Prigozhin denies links to Wagner.
In 2021, the European Union sanctioned Kuznetsov for Wagner Group activities that it claimed endangered Libya’s peace, stability, and security.
CNN has sought comment on the story from Russia’s foreign and defense ministries, and the parent organization of Prigozhin’s group of companies, but there has been no response.
“We are monitoring this issue closely, including the reported activities of Meroe Gold, the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group, and other sanctioned actors in Sudan, the region, and throughout the gold trade,” a US State Department spokesperson was quoted as saying, in response to the CNN investigation.
“We support the Sudanese people in their pursuit of a democratic and prosperous Sudan that respects human rights,” the spokesperson added. “We will continue to make clear our concerns to Sudanese military officials about the malign impact of Wagner, Meroe Gold, and other actors.”