An arm of French winemaker Groupe Castel is facing an investigation by anti-terrorism prosecutors over allegations it struck a deal with a militia linked to “mass atrocities” in the Central African Republic, Bloomberg reports.
The company said on Friday it would “cooperate fully” with French authorities after the investigation was announced by The Sentry, an anti-corruption NGO founded by actor George Clooney and activist John Prendergast.
Sentry published a report in August that an arm of the French drinks company helped militias in the country in exchange for the security of its sugar assets there.
Castel conducted its own investigation into the sugar plant and concluded that “no substantial evidence or information corroborates The Sentry’s allegations,” a company spokesman said in an emailed response to questions. The internal investigation involved conducting interviews, traveling around the country and analyzing “a large volume of documents,” the spokesman said.
However, Castel “will cooperate fully with the prosecution, bearing in mind that the group has already shared the report of the internal investigation,” he said.
The Central African Republic, one of the world’s least developed countries despite its diamond and gold deposits, has been plagued by conflict since 2013, when President Francois Boziz was ousted in a coup.
In late 2014, the African Sugar Refinery of the Central African Republic, a unit of Paris-based agri-food company Somdiaa, in which Castel is a major shareholder, allegedly negotiated a security deal with an armed group, according to its 28-page investigation The Sentry.
France’s investigation is a “significant milestone towards justice and corporate responsibility in war-torn countries,” Prendergast said in a statement.