WikiLeaks accuses French nuclear giant of ‘exploiting’ CAR workers
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French state-owned nuclear giant Areva was one of several companies accused of “a corrupt multi-billion-dollar” grab of uranium and other resources in the Central African Republic (CAR) in a new raft of documents released by WikiLeaks on Friday.
The documents – published the same day as a UN report calling for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to be released from “arbitrary detention” at the Ecuadorian embassy in London – include “maps of mining rights, mining contracts with illegal kickbacks and secret investigative reports”, said the whistleblowing organisation.
WikiLeaks accused Areva of failing to ensure the welfare of local employees, particularly in protecting miners from high levels of radiation, as well as “abandoning” workers after it pulled out of the Central African Republic following what proved to be a financially and politically disastrous business venture.
An undated Central African government committee report published by WikiLeaks claimed that key workers at Areva’s Bakouma mine who were in direct contact with uranium were provided with “no means of protection nor made aware of measures to protect against radiation while carrying out their activities”.
“The processing of soil samples was done with bare hands and with no protection,” it added.
The Central African Republic, a former French colony, is one of the world’s poorest countries despite rich mineral reserves.
Areva’s involvement in the country began with its ill-fated purchase of the Canadian uranium mining firm UraMin in 2007. The French outfit paid some $2.5 billion (€2.24 billion) for the firm, taking ownership of the company’s Uranium mines in central and southern Africa, including the Bakouma mine in the Central African Republic.
However, it soon became apparent that the reserves at UraMin’s mines were much lower than first thought, making them essentially worthless, and Areva was forced to write off the cost of the purchase.
The scandal led to investigations by French authorities into possible improprieties in the original purchase deal. Press reports alleged that Areva had bought UraMin as part of a ploy to curry favour with African politicians and secure lucrative nuclear power contracts.
When Areva finally withdrew from the Central African Republic in 2012, the government report published by WikiLeaks said that it failed to provide its employees with a means to return safely from the remote mine to the capital Bangui, some 850kms away.
It also accused the company of failing to provide information – and even destroying essential data – requested by the committee to assess conditions at the mine.
The documents “show the constant disdain of the company towards Central African Republic institutions and its population, and the neocolonial conditions of exploitation of its mines in Africa”, said WikiLeaks on its website.
Allegations ‘should be treated with caution’
However, Yannick Weyns, author of a report on Central Africa for the International Peace Information Service research centre, warned against taking the government’s report at face value.
“We must not forget that this is a government report that must be treated with caution because the committee is not a neutral actor,” he told FRANCE 24.
Areva has denied some aspects of the report, telling France Inter that staff at the Bakouma site had been given “appropriate workwear and received regular safety training”.
“The radiation doses received by staff are low and well below regulatory limits,” the company added.
WikiLeaks has also accused several other organisations and companies of corruption in the name of financial gain in the Central African Republic that it says are backed up by the raft of documents published Friday.
It says that an oil contract agreed with a state-owned Chinese company, Poly Technologies Inc – principally known as an arms dealer – actually “served as a partial cover-up for weapons trafficking, in violation of international laws”.
Other documents published by WikiLeaks show how UN-recognised NGO the World Sports Alliance (WSA), whose self-declared mission is to improve youth training and education through sports programmes, was granted concessions for diamond mines and biofertiliser plants in the country.
WikiLeaks alleges that the WSA is a “fake” organisation whose aims are “to corrupt local elites and steal the natural resources of impoverished states and their populations”.