Sudan charges Russian national in gold-smuggling probe that showed power feud

Sudan. (Reference image by UNAMID, Flickr).

Sudanese authorities charged a Russian national with gold smuggling but dropped a probe into other employees of the local company and let processing resume at a facility it bought from a firm allegedly tied to the Russian mercenary Wagner Group.

The case against the head of security at Al-Sawlaj for Mining Ltd. for allegedly transporting 5 kilograms (161 ounces) of illicit gold is the only one moving ahead, the company’s legal adviser, Huweda Mursal, said by phone.

The employee denies the charges. Sudan’s Justice Ministry didn’t answer calls on Thursday seeking comment.

About three dozen Russians were among 58 Al-Sawlaj workers questioned on accusations of gold smuggling earlier this year. The probe was seen as a potential setback for Moscow’s ambitions in the resource-rich North African state. It also signaled an escalation in a simmering power struggle between Sudan’s military and a rival militia whose leader has forged close ties with Russia.

Al-Sawlaj’s gold-tailing processing facility, located near Atbara, a city 280 kilometers (174 miles) north of the capital, Khartoum, restarted operations about two weeks ago, Mursal said.

The company has said it bought the site in 2021 for $1.8 million from Meroe Gold, a Sudan-registered firm sanctioned the year before by the US Treasury for its alleged ties to Wagner, a mercenary company founded by an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The European Council in February implemented restrictive measures against individuals and entities linked to the Wagner Group. It said that Al-Sawlaj was “associated with” Meroe, which it described as a “cover entity for the Wagner Group’s operations in Sudan.” It didn’t explicitly sanction Al-Sawlaj, and the company denies any connection to the Russian group.

Sudan officially exported about 34.5 tons of gold in 2022, according to the central bank, although authorities say the vast proportion of production is likely smuggled across its borders.

(By Mohammed Alamin and Simon Marks)


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