Russia ‘loots’ Sudan’s gold reserves, Sudanese call for protest

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CNN published a seven-month investigation revealing how “Russia is looting gold from Sudan to boost Putin’s war effort in Ukraine” with the complicity of Sudanese military leaders. Following the publication, some Sudanese have called for further marches of millions to protest Russia’s plunder of gold today.

Sudan is the third largest producer of precious metals in Africa. The CNN investigation shows the extent to which Russia is smuggling gold out of Sudan, circumventing the country’s official gold export regulations.

The post begins with a striking example:

“A few days after Moscow launched its bloody war against Ukraine, a Russian cargo plane stood on a Khartoum runway, a strip of tarmac surrounded by orange-red sand. The plane’s manifest indicated that it was loaded with cookies. Sudan rarely, if ever, exports cookies.

“A heated debate erupted between officials at a back office at Khartoum International Airport. They feared the inspection of the plane would antagonize the country’s increasingly pro-Russian military rulers. Several previous attempts to intercept suspicious Russian carriers had been halted.Eventually, however, officials decided to board the plane.

“Inside the hold, colorful boxes of biscuits were spread out in front of them. Hidden just below were wooden crates containing Sudan’s most valuable resource. Gold. About a ton”.

This example is one of at least 16 known Russian gold smuggling thefts from Sudan over the past year and a half, CNN explains.

Interviews with high-level Sudanese and US officials suggest the existence of an “elaborate Russian plan” to plunder Sudan’s gold reserves to boost Russian wealth in the face of Western sanctions.

“Evidence also suggests that Russia is colluding with Sudan’s embattled military rulers,” CNN writes, “allowing billions of dollars in gold to bypass the Sudanese state and deprive the poverty-stricken country of hundreds of million in state revenue”.

“We have known for a long time that Russia exploits Sudan’s natural resources. In order to maintain access to these resources, Russia encouraged the military coup” – a US official

In exchange for easy access to Sudanese gold, Russia has provided strong political and military support to the Sudanese military junta, which faces widespread criticism for its violent response to the country’s pro-democracy protests and is very unpopular with the Sudanese public.

“We have known for a long time that Russia is exploiting Sudan’s natural resources,” a former US official told CNN. “In order to maintain access to these resources, Russia encouraged the military coup.”

Former and current US officials told CNN that Russia actively supported the Oct. 25 military coup that toppled Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok’s transitional civilian government.

Especially in the face of Western sanctions after its invasion of Ukraine, the Russian government has “much to gain” from its relationship with the Sudanese military.

The investigation also explained that Russia and the military “jointly benefit from gold stolen from Sudan”.

The CNN article describes a “complex” gold smuggling ring. At least 16 of the flights intercepted by Sudanese officials last year were operated by military jets to and from the Syrian port city of Latakia, where Russia has a major air base.

“Gold shipments also follow an overland route to the CAR [Central African Republic]where Wagner* supported a repressive regime and allegedly applied some of his cruelest tactics to the people of the country,” CNN writes.

Last month, Radio Dabanga reported that the Darfur Bar Association (DBA) had confirmed the presence of Russian “Wagner” mercenaries in South Darfur, which it claims to have documented “since last year”. The mercenaries are specifically accused of attacks against gold miners in the locality of Um Dafug, near the border with the Central African Republic (CAR).

According to political analyst Magdi El Gizouli, Hemeti’s visit to Russia in March this year was “arranged by Wagner’s Russian mercenaries in order to find a way out of their ally in Sudan and ensure his continued power so that ‘they can continue to plunder the country’s resources’.

The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), commanded by the Chairman of Sudan’s Sovereignty Council and coup leader Abdelfattah EL Burhan, and the infamous Rapid Support Forces (RSF), commanded by the Deputy Chairman of the Sovereignty Council of Sudan, General Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemeti’ Dagalo, profit enormously from Sudan’s gold exports.

The RSF have long been associated with controlling gold mining in Darfur and have built a vast business empire that not only captures much of the country’s gold industry, but also has huge interests in many sectors of the Sudanese economy. The anti-corruption NGO Global Witness published a report in 2019 on the financial networks behind the RSF.

Voices that criticize the exploitation carried out by Sudanese military leaders and the Russian government have been strongly suppressed. Just like the journalists working on this investigation.

“Several local journalism networks from which CNN drew inspiration for this report (…) have been targeted in recent months, driven into exile under the threat of assassination. Ten protesters were gunned down during protests in June alone, three of whom were prominent pro-democracy activists. CNN security sources believe they were deliberately targeted,” CNN explained.

“High-level Sudanese officials have repeatedly urged CNN’s Nima Elbagir to avoid protest sites. Since CNN began this investigation, Elbagir has been blacklisted by the military junta, according to multiple Sudanese security sources,” the outlet wrote.

She wrote on social media that “this investigation lasted 7 months, what shocked us the most was the extent of the subversion of the Sudanese state by Russia, it was the entrenchment of the generals Sudanese to the detriment of hopes of democracy. While the United States – and the world – watches”.

Sudanese pro-democracy groups, including the influential Resistance Committees, have called for new marches of the millions today, July 31, to protest against Russia’s exploitation of their country’s gold resources.

Gold mining in Sudan

The current amount of gold prepared for export is unprecedented, as the company purchased more gold in ten days than is usually exported by the country in a year.

Currently, Sudan brings about 90 tons of gold to the world market per year, making it the 10th largest gold producer in the world. Most of this gold is mined from the Hassai Gold Mine in the Red Sea State, where iron ore and other base metals are also mined.

Gold can also be found in North and South Kordofan, Darfur, North Sudan, Nile State and other places along the Nile and Blue Nile. Other mineral reserves in the country include chromite, gypsum, phosphates, zinc, lead, nickel, aluminum and cobalt.

“It is estimated that between 50 and 80% of Sudanese gold is smuggled out of the country”

Stiffer control

The export of gold is important for the Sudanese economy. In an interview with Radio Dabanga’s Sudan Today programme, Professor of Economics at El Nilein University in Khartoum, Dr. Hasan Bashir explained that export volumes could have been 10 times higher than current exports. and pointed to the continued smuggling of large amounts of gold from the country.

Sudan is the second largest gold producer in Africa. However, production is often driven by unregulated artisanal (individual subsistence) mining, and routine gold smuggling across international borders is an ongoing problem. It is estimated that between 50 and 80% of Sudanese gold is smuggled out of the country. It is also known that the proceeds were used to finance the internal conflict.

To combat this problem, the Central Bank of Sudan announced stricter control measures in March this year.

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