Castel Group Subsidiary Funded and Provided Support to Violent Criminal Militia to Protect Business Interests, Despite Knowledge of Extreme Brutality Against Civilians in the Central African Republic, Including Mass Killings, Rape, and Torture
August 18, 2021 (Washington DC / Paris) – A new investigative report released today by The Sentry reveals that the Central African subsidiary of Castel Group, a multibillion-dollar food and beverage conglomerate, has funded and provided support to a brutal militias responsible for mass killings, abductions, torture, child soldier recruitment, sexual and gender-based violence, and deadly attacks on displaced camps sheltering tens of thousands of people.
The Sentry report, “Cultivating Atrocities: French Sugar and Beverage Giant Castel Group Linked to the Funding of Brutal Militias in Central African Republic,” includes an extensive body of evidence detailing how the Castel Group subsidiary African Sugar Refinery of the Central African Republic (SUCAF RCA) secured a security arrangement with the notoriously brutal criminal group, the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC). The apparent purpose of the tacit agreement was to secure SUCAF RCA’s factory and sugar cane fields, ensure the free movement of truckers on key roadways, and assure the company’s monopoly on sugar distribution in several prefectures. In return for the UPC’s support, SUCAF RCA financed the violent militia through direct and indirect cash payments, as well as through in-kind support in the form of vehicle maintenance and fuel provision. The militia’s leader, self-proclaimed General Ali Darassa, and former UPC political coordinator and current Minister of Livestock and Animal Health Hassan Bouba have both been the primary beneficiaries of the financial arrangement with SUCAF RCA.
John Prendergast, Co-Founder of The Sentry, said: “The Central African Republic is besieged by predatory operators both foreign and domestic that profit from a state of permanent war. The international community should urgently address the financial motives that fuel mass atrocities in the Central African conflict and ensure that business advantages are not gained by funding criminal groups that commit grave abuses. Companies such as the Castel Group subsidiaries operating in CAR’s sugar sector should be investigated and held fully accountable for any complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity they are determined to have committed. Prosecutorial investigations should be launched immediately in every relevant jurisdiction, and the victims should be compensated.”
Nathalia Dukhan, Senior Investigator at The Sentry, said: “The near-monopoly in the sugar sector that Castel Group’s subsidiaries have enjoyed for the last twenty years has not benefited Central Africans. Not only are people forced to pay for the most expensive sugar in Central Africa, but the money they pay as sugar consumers has helped finance the very gangsters and deadly weapons that are terrorizing and killing them.”
Evidence in The Sentry’s report documents how SUCAF RCA and its Paris-based parent company Food and Agricultural Industries Management and Development Company (SOMDIAA), as well as SOMDIAA’s security contractor, retired French General Bruno Dary, have been regularly informed of the egregious human rights violations committed by the UPC, an array of atrocities the United Nations has identified as potential war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Sentry’s investigation found that, despite this knowledge, SUCAF RCA management still provided financial and logistical support to criminal groups, primarily but not exclusively the UPC, for more than six years, thus helping to fuel armed conflict in CAR.
Oliver Windridge, Senior Advisor at The Sentry, said: “This report alleges corporate involvement in international crimes of the most serious nature. The reported deadly links between corporate actors financing militia groups that have committed mass atrocities require an immediate, focused, and transparent response at both domestic and international levels. This response will be a litmus test for corporate responsibility for atrocities not seen since the Lafarge case.”
Justyna Gudzowska, Director of Illicit Finance Policy at The Sentry, said: “Given the revelation that a Castel Group subsidiary has potentially provided logistical and financial support to armed groups involved in atrocities in CAR, it is incumbent upon financial institutions and other private sector actors that engage in business with the entities named in this report to conduct enhanced due diligence to ensure that they are not indirectly funding violent militia groups. Until the relevant subsidiaries of the Castel Group ensure that all such support has ceased and make full disclosures to the authorities, anyone doing business with them could be taking on significant legal, regulatory, and reputational risk.”
In response to the report’s findings, The Sentry offers a series of urgent policy recommendations, fully detailed at the end of the report and highlighted below.
France’s national antiterrorism prosecutor’s office should launch an urgent investigation into the potential complicity and criminal liability of Castel Group’ subsidiaries—primarily but not exclusively the Paris-based SOMDIAA and the CAR-based SUCAF RCA—in war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as under France’s Criminal Code. Based on the report’s findings, the French prosecutor’s office should also investigate the deliberate endangerment of the lives of SUCAF RCA’s employees, as well as any other economic and financial offenses for the seizure and smuggling of sugar documented in the report.
The prosecutor’s offices of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Central African Special Criminal Court (SCC) should undertake an urgent review of the evidence presented in this report and open an investigation into the alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the UPC. Prosecutors should also look into their enablers, in particular SOMDIAA and SUCAF RCA, in the context of renewed violence in CAR starting in December 2012. The ICC and the SCC should invite cooperation between international and national actors and address more directly the financial motives that fuel mass atrocities in the CAR conflict.
The companies, holdings, and shareholders that constitute Pierre Castel’s business empire should immediately disclose to relevant authorities all materials in their possession connected to this report and undertake an open and transparent investigation into the alleged links between their businesses and armed conflict in CAR. The relevant companies and their respective boards of directors should also urgently initiate a full human rights and anticorruption due diligence audit of their Central African operations through an external third party.
Central African law enforcement authorities should launch an urgent investigation as to potential criminal liability that arises from this report, specifically in reference to war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by Ali Darassa and the current Central African Minister of Livestock Hassan Bouba, and collaborate with other judicial authorities regarding the potential complicity of Castel Group’s subsidiaries, SOMDIAA and SUCAF RCA, in war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The UN, European Union, United States, and United Kingdom should investigate and, if appropriate, designate for sanctions the UPC leaders and the network of individuals and entities with links to Castel Group’s subsidiaries highlighted in this report who are allegedly fueling mass atrocities and profiting from state capture in CAR. Authorities should seek to track assets connected to the proceeds of this activity and, where identified, forfeit them and provide the resources for development purposes.
Source: The Sentry