Report: Company tied to Putin ally behind plan to blame Israel for Sudan unrest

Russian oligarch charged as part of Mueller probe is linked to firm that suggested Khartoum mount social media campaign saying Israel supported protests, CNN reports

Protesters rally near the military headquarters, April 9, 2019, in the capital Khartoum, Sudan. (AP Photo)
Protesters rally near the military headquarters, April 9, 2019, in the capital Khartoum, Sudan. (AP Photo)

A Sudanese government strategy of blaming Israel for protests that led to the ousting of President Omar al-Bashir earlier this month was reportedly formulated by a company with links to Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Prigozhin, known as Putin’s “chef,” ran the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency and is one of 13 Russians charged with election inference as part of the investigation by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

According to documents seen by CNN, a second company tied to Prigozhin, M-Invest, formulated a plan to spread misinformation on social media, blame Israel, and carry out public executions of “looters.”

One document suggested the demonstrators be portrayed as “enemies of Islam and traditional values” by planting LGBT flags among them, as well as a social media campaign claiming that “Israel supports the protesters.”

In this Nov. 11, 2011 photo, businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, left, serves food to Russian then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, center, during dinner at Prigozhin’s restaurant outside Moscow, Russia (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze, Pool, File)

Government and military sources in Khartoum confirmed the existence of the plans and said that Bashir’s government began to implement them.

There was no evidence of a formal link between the company and the Russian government. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said at a press briefing in January: “We are informed that some employees of Russian private security firms, who have no relation to the Russian government authorities, are indeed working in Sudan. But their functions are limited to personnel training.”

Sudanese protesters take part in an anti-government demonstration in Khartoum on February 14, 2019 (AFP)

Prigozhin has close ties to the Kremlin, and according to the network, the strategy was designed to protect Russia’s interests in the African country. CNN has previously reported that M-Invest was granted concessions to mine for gold in Sudan.

Witnesses said that Russian observers were seen at the recent protests.

The documents were obtained and examined by the London-based Dossier Center before they were passed to CNN. The Dossier Center is run by exiled Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a fierce critic and enemy of President Vladimir Putin.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech to the nation on February 22, 2019, at the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum (ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP)

Earlier this month, Bashir was ousted by the army after months of anti-government protests against his three decades of iron-fisted rule.

The veteran leader, who swept to power in a 1989 coup, was one of Africa’s longest-serving presidents. He is wanted on charges of genocide and war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

The protests, which erupted in December over the government’s tripling of the price of bread, were the biggest challenge yet to Bashir’s long rule. Officials said 49 people died in protest-related violence since demonstrations first erupted in December.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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