Wagner Group Plundering CAR Diamonds
New reporting is showing how Russia uses its Wagner Group mercenaries to extract diamonds from the Central African Republic (CAR).
Research published in December 2022 by Belgian newspaper De Standaard, the media network European Investigative Collaborations (EIC), and the All Eyes on Wagner project concluded that “in exchange for military support to the government in the CAR, the Russian Wagner Group gets access to precious raw materials.”
Since it established a base in CAR, the Wagner Group moved quickly to seize and control numerous mines.
“Wherever there are mines and diggers, these people [linked to Wagner] are there, armed,” the EIC report said. “When someone [a gold or diamond miner] comes across something good, they go to that person.
“There have even been assassinations like that, to take other people’s merchandise.”
Dozens of miners reportedly were killed in at least three major attacks in 2022, allegedly involving mercenaries working for Wagner. The group was founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Pauline Bax, the deputy Africa director of the International Crisis Group, said mining in CAR has been fraught with violence since Wagner arrived.
“There are regular reports of attackers arriving by helicopter, killing artisanal goldminers and rebels … [then] taking everything they can and then leaving,” she said in a statement.
“Sometimes they come back again a month or so later and do the same thing. It is nothing to do with securing a mining site.”
A diamond export company in CAR called Diamville reportedly is one of many subsidiaries of the Wagner Group, which has been accused of committing war crimes and human rights abuses in CAR, Mali and Ukraine.
A July 2022 investigation by EIC, Mediapart and All Eyes on Wagner interviewed diamond professionals familiar with CAR’s industry.
“It is the proceeds of looting and other things that go through them [Diamville],” one said anonymously for fear of retribution. “The products they take by force from people, from poor collectors and poor artisans.”
Another said Wagner Group operatives have built a cartel to force independent diamond collectors to sell exclusively to Diamville.
“Anyone who tries to found out anything about the Russians will be targeted,” he said. “As I speak, if they can decrypt our communication, I am dead.”
Wagner’s well-established strategy is to create locally based companies as a front for stealing and exporting natural resources.
The EIC investigation in December 2022 showed Diamville, one of the four largest diamond exporters in CAR, shipped 296 carats worth an estimated 132,000 euros to Belgium in November 2019.
About 86% of the world’s rough diamonds are said to pass through Antwerp, Belgium.
Conflict diamonds, also known as blood diamonds, typically go underground through neighboring Cameroon and Sudan, although some go through official channels with export permits, according to De Standaard.
Although the value of diamonds definitively linked to Wagner is relatively small, researchers suspect there may be a far greater amount being exported from the CAR. In June 2022, four months into Russia’s war on Ukraine, nearly 400 million euros worth of diamonds were exported by Russia into Belgium.
Experts say Wagner revenues, including blood diamonds from CAR, directly fund the group’s military operations in Ukraine.
In a March 2022 speech delivered to Belgium’s Federal Parliament, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued a searing rebuke to the buyers of blood diamonds from CAR and other parts of Africa.
“Peace is worth more than anything,” he said, “more than any values, more than any diamonds.”