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French wine giant, African militia and Chinese partner

An anti-violence organisation co-founded by George Clooney has published a report accusing the Groupe Castel conglomerate of co-financing a violent militia called the Union for Peace in Central Africa. The company, the third largest alcohol producer in the world, denies the accusations. However, French prosecutors have launched an investigation into the matter, and it is not all the group’s problems.

Groupe Castel is one of the biggest players in the alcohol market. The family-owned giant was founded in 1949 under the name Castel Frères and is still managed by family members. From the beginning, they planned to focus on the mass production of cheap, everyday wines. It has succeeded; the concern owns three of the best-selling wines in France: Roche Mazet, Vieux Papes and La Villageoise.

The company grew rapidly. It has acquired a number of established brands, including the chain of Nicolas shops, the German wine producer Barton & Guestier or the French company Patriarche. The group, by its own admission, sells a total of 500 million bottles of wine a year, or 16 bottles per second. It has also developed a beer business (it has around 45 breweries in Africa alone) as well as mineral waters (following the acquisition of the famous Vichy) and soft drinks.

In more than a dozen countries in French-speaking Africa, Groupe Castel is virtually a monopoly in the alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks sector. Its boss Pierre Castel is friends with the leaders of many countries in the area and has been attending their celebrations for years. This is a politically unstable region, gripped by wars, so doing business here is sometimes quite difficult. This is why they are watched by both competitors and various organisations, especially humanitarian ones.

Accusations that the African branch of the corporation was collaborating with local terrorist militias surfaced exactly one year ago. It was then that the American website The Sentry – describing investigations by the anti-violence organisation Satellite Sentinel Project, co-founded by the famous actor George Clooney – published a report suggesting that Castel’s African subsidiary was complicit in war crimes in the area. This was thought to involve the company’s collaboration with a militia called the Union for Peace in Central Africa (UPC), accused of murder, torture and rape. Castel was to pay off the UPC in return for avoiding ‘trouble’ and securing its market position in the region.

Click here to read the full article.

By Wojciech Gogoliński

Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski

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