French prosecutors open investigation into war crimes linked to Groupe Castel unit in Central African Republic

PARIS, July 1 (Reuters) – France’s anti-terrorism prosecution has opened an investigation into allegations of potential complicity in war crimes against Groupe Castel in the Central African Republic (CAR), a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Friday.

A local unit of the French drinks conglomerate is suspected of making payments to the local militia, the source said.

A Groupe Castel spokesperson said the company was cooperating fully with French authorities on the matter and that an internal investigation into the initial charges showed no evidence of wrongdoing.

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The investigation follows a report by The Sentry last year which indicated that the group’s subsidiaries had entered into agreements to provide the UPC armed militia with cash and vehicle support to secure a position in the regional market. .

The United Nations says the UPC has killed, tortured, raped and displaced civilians, and engaged in arms trafficking, illegal taxation and warfare.

The source specifies that the investigation which opened in Paris did not formally target either the group or the leaders, but had been opened “against X”, which allows the prosecutors to investigate in all directions.

Groupe Castel, headquartered in the Bordeaux region, is one of the largest wine and beverage conglomerates in the world, selling some of Africa’s most popular beers. French business magazine Challenges puts the Castel family’s fortune at around 14 billion euros ($15 billion).

CORPORATE CRIME

French authorities, backed by human rights groups, are stepping up action against corporate misdeeds linked to conflicts abroad.

In May, a Paris appeals court rejected a request by French cement maker Lafarge to dismiss charges of complicity in crimes against humanity and endangering lives for keeping a factory running in Syria after the outbreak of conflict in 2011. read more

The case is seen as a landmark decision to hold Western companies accountable for acts committed while operating overseas.

With the launch of the investigation linked to Castel, The Sentry lawyers Clémence Witt and Anaïs Sarron told Reuters that the prosecution would now be able to hear witnesses and order searches and seizures.

“The prosecution will now launch its investigations in order to establish the truth,” they said.

“War profiteers have fueled devastating, long-term armed conflicts around the world, too often without legal and financial consequences for perpetrators,” said John Prendergast, who co-founded The Sentry alongside actor George Clooney.

Prendergast said the ruling should show multinational companies that they can be held responsible for criminal operations, even in countries with weak legal systems.

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Reporting by Sarah Morland, editing by Tassilo Hummel, Gareth Jones and Angus MacSwan

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