Groupe Castel has launched an investigation into a report that says a unit of the French beverage maker aided the militia accused of “mass atrocities” in the Central African Republic in exchange for the safety of its sugar assets.
Castel’s announcement came after The Sentry, a Washington-based anti-corruption group co-founded by actor George Clooney, published a 28-page investigation into the sugar-producing unit on August 18.
Once “the general management of Castel became aware of the serious complaints made”, decided to initiate an investigation “in accordance with its internal procedures” and “will communicate the result of this investigation”, the company, which also sells beer in a number from African countries, it said in a statement.
The Central African Republic, one of the least developed countries in the world despite diamond and gold deposits, has been plagued with conflict since 2013, when President Francois Bozize was ousted in a coup. The rebels now face a Russian-backed government, which has provided some military support.
In late 2014, the Central African Republic’s African Sugar Refinery, a unit of the Paris-based agri-food company Somdiaa, in which Castel is a major shareholder, allegedly negotiated a security agreement with an armed group, according to The Sentry. The Sentry said Castel owns 87% of Somdiaa. Castel did not respond to a question from Bloomberg about his equity stake.
Through the pact, the sugar producer secured its factory and cane fields and ensured free movement on key roads necessary for supplying supplies, The Sentry said.
The deal also strengthened the company’s monopoly on distribution in various regions, including through the seizure of smuggled sugar, The Sentry said.
A “sophisticated and informal system” was established to fund the military “through direct and indirect cash payments, as well as through in-kind support in the form of vehicle maintenance and fuel supply,” The Sentry said showing your investigation.
The pact was active until March, “but its future remains uncertain due to the deployment of government and Russian forces in territories previously controlled” by the armed group Unión por la Paz in the Central African Republic, known as UPC.
The UPC, formed in 2014, has been linked to mass murder, kidnapping, torture, recruitment of child soldiers, and sexual and gender-based violence, The Sentry said, citing interviews with witnesses. Human Rights Watch has linked the group to displacement of civilians and the United Nations issued a report detailing the attacks on villages by the UPC and the recruitment of children as soldiers.
Castel, a major Coca-Cola bottling partner in parts of Africa, declined to comment to Bloomberg beyond his statement about his investigation. Castel was founded by Pierre Castel in 1949 and, although it is still under the control of his family, today it operates a group of companies.
Alexandre Vilgrain, Somdiaa’s CEO, and Jean Louis Liscio, the company’s operations and risk manager, told The Sentry that “to our knowledge, no such arrangements have been made” with the UPC by their unit’s management. in the Central African Republic and “there is no support of any kind.”
Instead, Somdiaa secured the site of his unit in the nation “with the support of internationally mandated foreign military forces present in the area,” and this has helped create an “area of refuge for the surrounding population,” Vilgrain told The Sentry. Somdiaa did not respond to Bloomberg’s request for comment.
“We encourage the Castel Group to undertake an open, transparent and independent investigation,” said Nathalia Dukhan, a researcher at The Sentry, in a separate statement. “And to disclose to the pertinent authorities all the materials in his possession related to these accusations.”
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