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Wagner Group: Sudan denies presence of Russian mercenaries in country

The Kremlin-linked military contractor has been accused of involvement in gold smuggling across Africa
General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan during talks with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (not pictured) at the State House, Entebbe, on 17 March 2022 (AFP)
General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan during talks with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (not pictured) at the State House, Entebbe, on 17 March 2022 (AFP)

The head of the Sudanese government has denied the presence of the controversial Russian Wagner Group private military contractors in his country, denying news reports that the group was heavily involved in gold and diamond smuggling.

Speaking to the Alhurra news outlet on Monday, Sudan’s military leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said "there is no presence of this company or other outlaw organisations in the country."

According to multiple news reports, Wagner has operated in Africa since 2017, becoming more involved in Sudan after a November meeting in Sochi between Putin and then-Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir.

The organisation, a private military contractor with close links to the Kremlin, has been involved in gold mining across Sudan and in neighbouring countries.

The group have also been accused of carrying out attacks on civilians in the neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR).

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In Sudan, records show that the Russian mercenary network has secured lucrative Sudanese mining concessions that produce a stream of gold. 

According to the New York Times, this worries US officials, who believe the concessions will boost Moscow’s $130bn gold stash, helping President Vladimir Putin’s administration circumvent the effect of economic sanctions imposed over the Ukraine war

Citing information from the Dossier Centre and the Center for Advanced Defence Studies, the New York Times reported that within weeks of the November 2017 meeting, Russian geologists and mineralogists employed by Meroe Gold arrived in Sudan. 

They were followed by Russian defence officials intent on securing a naval base for Moscow on Sudan’s Red Sea coast, an aim that is still being pursued.

Western officials say Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch known as “Putin’s chef” because his restaurants have hosted dinners for the Russian president and accompanying foreign dignitaries, runs the Wagner Group. Prigozhin denies the claims.

The US Treasury Department says Meroe Gold is controlled by Prigozhin, though as with his purported links to Wagner, the Russian businessman has denied the claim, telling the NYT he has “nothing to do” with the company.

In the 18 months that followed the arrival of the Russian geologists, Meroe Gold imported 131 shipments into Sudan, the NYT reported, citing Russian customs records.

These shipments included mining and construction equipment, as well as military trucks, amphibious vehicles, two transport helicopters - one of which was later photographed in the CAR - and a 1956 Cadillac.

Prigozhin’s jet then arrived in Khartoum carrying a delegation of Russian military officials, before returning to Moscow with senior Sudanese defence officials, according to flight data obtained by the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

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