Russia plunders Sudan’s gold to pay for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Vladimir Putin (Reuters)
Vladimir Putin (Reuters)

A few days had passed since Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine when agents at Khartoum International Airport found themselves in an awkward situation: a Russian cargo plane claimed to be carrying cookies… But Sudan rarely – actually never – exports cookies. Inside the cellar, under the colorful biscuit boxes were wooden chests containing Sudan’s most precious resource: gold. About a ton.

This February incident, recounted by multiple official Sudanese sources to the CNNIt’s one of the 16 known Russian gold smuggling flights from Sudan, the third largest producer of this precious metal in Africa, in the last year and a half.

The network cites multiple interviews with high-level Sudanese and US officials and reams of documents. The investigation paints a picture of an elaborate Russian scheme to plunder Sudan’s riches in an attempt to strengthen Russia against ever-tightening Western sanctions and to bolster Moscow’s war effort in Ukraine. CNN.

The evidence also suggests that Russia has colluded with Sudan’s beleaguered military leadership, allowing billions of dollars in gold to bypass the Sudanese state and depriving the poverty-stricken country of hundreds of millions in state revenue. In return, Russia has lent powerful political and military support to Sudan’s increasingly unpopular military leaders, who are violently suppressing the country’s pro-democracy movement.

At the center of this deal between Moscow and the Sudanese military junta is Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch and a key ally of President Vladimir Putin.

This 61-year-old man, sanctioned by Western powers, controls a shadowy network of companies that includes Wagner, the paramilitary group linked to alleged torture, mass murder and looting in several war-torn countries, including Syria and the Central African Republic. .

The United States announced on March 3, 2022 the imposition of sanctions against Russian oligarchs, including Yevgeniy Prigozhin (REUTERS)
The United States announced on March 3, 2022 the imposition of sanctions against Russian oligarchs, including Yevgeniy Prigozhin (REUTERS)

In Sudan, Prigozhin’s main vehicle is a US-sanctioned company called Meroe Gold – a subsidiary of Prigozhin-owned M-invest – which mines gold while providing weapons and training to the country’s army and paramilitaries, according to invoices. seen by CNN.

“Through Meroe Gold, or other companies associated with Prigozhin employees, he has developed a strategy to plunder the economic resources of the African countries in which he intervenes, in return for his support of the governments in office,” said Denis. Korotkov, a researcher at the London-based Dossier Center, which tracks the criminal activity of various people associated with the Kremlin. The center was founded by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, now living in exile in London.

In this Monday, Sept. 20, 2010, file photo, businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin and Russian President Vladimir Putin are seen (AP)
In this Monday, Sept. 20, 2010, file photo, businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin and Russian President Vladimir Putin are seen (AP)

According to official Sudanese sources, as well as flight data reviewed by CNN in collaboration with the Twitter account of flight tracker Gerjon, at least 16 of the flights intercepted by Sudanese authorities last year were operated by military planes going to and from the Syrian port city of Latakia, where Russia has a major air base.

gold shipments also follow a land route to the Central African Republic, where Wagner has propped up a repressive regime and has apparently applied some of his cruelest tactics to the country’s population, according to multiple official Sudanese sources and the Dossier Center.

FILE PHOTO: Gold bars seized from a plane by Sudanese Rapid Support Forces at Khartoum airport (Reuters)
FILE PHOTO: Gold bars seized from a plane by Sudanese Rapid Support Forces at Khartoum airport (Reuters)

Russian looting of Sudanese gold began in 2014 after its invasion of Crimea triggered a series of Western sanctions. Gold shipments proved to be an efficient way of accumulating and transferring wealth, bolstering Russian state coffers while circumventing international financial oversight systems. “The downside of gold is that it’s physical and much more cumbersome to use than international transfers, but the flip side of that is that it’s much more difficult, if not impossible, to freeze or confiscate,” Daniel McDowell told CNN. sanctions specialist and associate professor of Political Science at Syracuse University.

For at least a decade, Russia has hidden its Sudanese gold transactions from the official record. A Central Bank of Sudan insider showed CNN a photo of a spreadsheet showing that 32.7 tonnes were unaccounted for in 2021. Using current prices, this equates to $1.9 billion of missing gold, at $60 million. the ton.

However, several current and former officials say the amount of gold missing is even higher, arguing that the Sudanese government grossly underestimates the gold produced in informal artisanal mines, distorting the true figure.

Most of CNN’s internal sources claim that about 90% of Sudan’s gold production is smuggled out. If true, this would be equivalent to about $13.4 billion in gold that has evaded customs and regulations, potentially losing hundreds of millions of dollars in government revenue.

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