An Ottawa lobbyist is in the middle of a deal that could give Russia a dominant role in Sudan. It also comes as Canadian activists are pushing for a ban on such deals.
A Canadian lobbyist says he is working to secure a deal in Sudan. The military-dominated regime that controls the region has been in power since a coup this summer. Activists are asking the lobbyist to stop his work. The lobbyist is also helping Russia get access to a port in Sudan.
Mr. Ben-Menashe disclosed that he is helping secure a deal that would allow Russia access to Sudanese ports on the Red Sea. He said it is a long-standing goal of Russia to have access to these ports.
In Sudan, security forces have violently suppressed a wave of massive pro-democracy street protests since the military seized power in an Oct. 25 coup. On Wednesday, at least 15 people were shot dead and dozens injured when security forces fired live ammunition and tear gas at protesters in the capital city of Khartoum and surrounding areas.
The Sudanese military just seized control of the government. And just like before, Ben-Menashe has promised to help them. He recently signed a $6-million lobbying contract with Sudan’s military leaders, promising to secure diplomatic support for the regime and deliver weapons.
A year ago, he was hired as a lobbyist by the Burmese military junta. However, because of U.S. and Canadian sanctions, he could not be paid for his work.
Sudanese-Canadian pro-democracy activists are planning a demonstration in Ottawa this weekend to protest Canada’s military relationships with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. They are calling for the amendment of Bill S-220, which would prohibit lobbyists from working for military regimes.
“We are concerned about lobbying activities that polish a military junta’s image or improve the perception of a dictatorship,” said Lubna Ahmed, one of the activists.
The lobbying is shameful and should not be legally permitted, she said. “Why is lobbying to get military equipment or funds for armed groups legal in Canada?”
A former Israeli intelligence officer, Ben-Menashe owns a lobbying firm in Montreal. He signed a contract to represent General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy leader of the transitional military council that took control of the country after last year’s coup.
The contract clearly states that the lobbying firm will provide positive and favorable media coverage of the military and its security agencies. The firm will also seek funds and materials for its soldiers and security agencies.
The Janjaweed militia is a group that is widely accused of massacres and atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan. Today, its former leader, Gen. Dagalo remains the deputy leader of the military-dominated Sovereign Council, which was dissolved after the latest coup and then reappointed by Sudanese military leaders with new members.
After the Globe and Mail revealed the 2019 contract, the federal government asked the RCMP to investigate whether Mr. Ben-Menashe was violating Canadian sanctions. These sanctions prohibit the supply of weapons or related technical assistance to Sudan.
Ben-Menashe said he was approached by the RCMP in February. They wanted to know what he was doing. He told them everything. The RCMP later concluded that, legally, he had not broken any sanctions. The Globe contacted the RCMP’s media relations department for comment, but there was no response by Thursday night.
Amnesty International, in a recent statement, said that Canadian company’s business relationship with Sudan’s military regime is “deeply disturbing.” The contract could deepen the human rights crisis in Sudan and may violate Canadian arms-control laws.
The original contract was for $6 million, but then this guy continued to get paid. In a filing with the U.S., he said that he worked with the Sudanese government, whose leader and deputy leader are both military officers.
In an interview with the newspaper this week, Ben-Menashe said he has talked to people from General Dagalo’s office since the coup. They called him several times to get his advice and discuss another possible contract.
A top Sudanese general said he would soon sign a peace agreement that would allow him to work with international partners to get the international community on board with the new government. “They want us to help them do the same thing all over again,” he said. “But this time, the people running it will be acceptable to the United States.”
A Canadian-Sudanese activist said, “It would be civilians, but they would still be in control. They aren’t keen to let go. They want to keep control.” He was asked about the activists campaigning against such contracts, and he said, “We’re not violating any laws, we’re not violating any sanctions. People are free to give their opinions publicly, to demonstrate.”
Mr. Ben-Menashe said he has also helped Sudan’s military regime in its relations with Israel and Russia – both of which have declined to condemn the coup so far. In his 2019 contract, he promised to help the regime improve its relations with Russia and obtain Russian financing.
In late 2019, Mr. Ben-Menashe signed a $5-million contract to help a Dubai-based logistics company gain access to a port in Sudan, the largest country in Africa. The deal could also benefit Russia.
In 2017, Russia and Sudan began negotiating a deal to allow a Russian naval base at Port Sudan. The Russian government announced it had finalized the deal last year. But earlier this year, as Sudan sought to improve relations with the United States, the Sudanese civilian government said it was still reviewing the agreement and might reject some harmful clauses.
In this interview, Ben-Menashe said that he is working on an agreement that would help Moscow gain access to a port in Sudan. He expects the deal to be finalized next year.
“It will probably be DP World operating it for the Russians – refuelling, loading, and unloading,” he said.