The Wagner Group’s presence in the Central African Republic (CAR) has permeated its government, military, and economic sectors, turning the country into a testing ground for Russian influence, warn experts.
The mercenaries have set their sights on capturing the CAR’s lucrative diamond market, engaging in theft and smuggling of the precious gems while eliminating anyone who obstructs their path.
One diamond dealer in Bangui, the capital of CAR, disclosed that Wagner fighters, in collaboration with the Central African Armed Forces (FACA), have intensified their focus on mining areas since 2021. They initially employed intimidation tactics, coercing miners and dealers to cooperate with them, under threats of danger. Those who complied were promised protection for their businesses if they sold the diamonds to Wagner.
These tactics have created a virtual mafia monopoly in the region, as Wagner enjoys state support, has regional offices, and connections in Bangui.
Diamonds have become a primary source of revenue for Wagner in CAR, with experts estimating the profits to amount to tens of millions of dollars.
Upon their arrival in late 2017, Wagner established several mining companies as a facade, including Lobaye Invest, Midas Ressources, and Diamville. These companies were granted mining licenses and tax-free export authorizations, enabling them to transport most of the diamonds illegally through the port of Douala in Cameroon and, in some cases, smuggle them through neighboring Chad and Sudan.
Investigative journalist Mathieu Olivier highlighted Wagner’s collaboration with existing smuggling networks in CAR, particularly with the Nassour and Ahmad families, who operate one of the largest diamond-smuggling networks on the continent.
Wagner’s influence extends throughout CAR’s government, allowing them to evade scrutiny and wield total impunity. They have imposed bans on photography and filming at M’Poko airport, where previous activities had been recorded, and restricted drone flights over sensitive areas, limiting the capacity of the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission.
The consequences for civilians and miners in the CAR have been catastrophic, with the U.N. and human rights groups accusing Wagner of committing massacres, torture, and widespread looting.
In recent years, Wagner has expanded its control over valuable mining sites, leading to atrocities in places like Abba, Boda, Bria, Ndassima, and Sam Ouandja.
A report by The Sentry revealed interviews with sources confirming that Wagner mercenaries, together with some FACA units they command, have systematically looted and killed artisanal miners and collectors.
Wagner employs terror tactics to suppress locals and maintain their mining monopoly, employing brutal methods, such as surrounding villages to seize gold and diamonds, killing individuals with substantial money, and disposing of bodies in remote areas.