A French subsidiary of Africa's second-largest brewer potentially provided logistical and financial support to armed groups involved in atrocities in the Central African Republic (CAR), according to a report Wednesday by a US-based investigative organization.
"Behind the scenes, to protect its market share in the sugar sector, African Sugar factory of Central African Republic (SUCAF RCA), one of the Castel Group's African subsidiaries, has financed armed militias responsible for mass atrocities," the 49-page report stated by The Sentry.
It was in a "climate of war and chaos" that subsidiaries of the Castel Group, the world's third-largest wine producer, maneuvered to retain historical advantages in the Central African sugar sector, said the report.
It said the group negotiated a security arrangement with an armed band, the Peace Unity in CAR (UPC), which has been responsible for massacres despite a severe political and security crisis in late 2014.
The negotiations enabled the UPC to secure factory and sugar cane fields and guarantee free movement on key roads needed to supply the SUCAF RCA sugar factory.
But talks also allowed the company to gain the support of the armed group in an attempt to protect the company's monopoly on sugar distribution in several prefectures, notably through the forced seizure of smuggled sugar, particularly from Sudan, said The Sentry.
To protect its sugar market the French company "set up a sophisticated and informal system to finance the armed militias through direct and indirect cash payments, as well as in-kind support in the form of vehicle maintenance and fuel supplies."
Militia leader, self-proclaimed Gen. Ali Darassa, and former UPC political coordinator and current Minister of Livestock and Animal Health Hassan Bouba are cited as beneficiaries of the arrangement.
"Since the end of 2014, Ali Darassa is said to have been paid nearly $31,000 a year in cash until the beginning of 2021, while Hassan Bouba is said to have received $20,000 a year until 2019," according to The Sentry's calculations based on several first-hand accounts, taking into account direct and indirect payments, in cash or in kind.
The agreement was extended to March 2021 but has "an uncertain future" because of "the deployment of government and Russian forces in former UPC-controlled territories," according to the report.
Denouncing "predatory operators both foreign and domestic who are profiting from a permanent state of war" in the Central African Republic, John Prendergast, co-founder of The Sentry, called on the international community to "urgently address the financial motivations that are fuelling mass atrocities in the Central African conflict."
Companies such as the one in question should be "investigated and held fully accountable for any complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity they may have committed.
"The victims should be compensated," Prendergast added.
Castel Group official Alexandre Vilgrain was quoted by French media denying the charges.
"No support of any kind has been provided," he said./agencies