A few days after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine a Russian transport plane landed on the runway of Khartoum airport, the capital of Sudan. According to documents, it was supposed to transport cookies, but Sudan hardly ever exports them, so officials became suspicious, CNN describes.

While airport workers feared that an attempt to stop the plane would anger Sudan’s increasingly pro-Russian military authorities, they eventually searched the plane. Inside, they found colorful packages of biscuits and a below them – wooden crates containing a ton of gold.

The February incident was one of at least 16 known Russian gold smuggling flights out of Sudan in the last 18 months.

Interviews with high-ranking officials in Sudan and the US show that the event was part of a complex Russian operation to loot Sudanese resourcesto strengthen Russia in the face of Western economic sanctions, reports CNN.

The evidence also shows that Sudanese military authorities cooperate with Russiathat allowed the export of gold worth billions of dollars, which deprived the impoverished country’s budget of vital resources.

Instead Russia provided military and political support junta that brutally suppresses the democratic movement.

According to US officials, Russia actively supported the military coup of 2021 that overthrew the civilian transitional government. – For a long time we know that Russia exploits Sudan’s natural resources. To maintain access to these resources, Russia encouraged a military coup, one official said.

At the center of this deal between Russia and Sudanese generals is the Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, owner of a private military company known as the Wagner group. Its mercenaries have been accused of torture, mass murder and looting in several war-torn countries, including Syria and the Central African Republic.

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In Sudan, Prigozhin’s main tool is Meroe Gold, which mines gold and trains the government army. It was subject to U.S. sanctions in 2020 and is now operating under the guise of the Sudanese company al-Solag, CNN says.

– Through Meroe Gold and other companies related to Prigo┼╝yn’s employees he developed a strategy of raking African countries’ economic resourcesin which it intervenes in exchange for support for local governments, assessed Denis Korotkov from the London-based Dossier Center team, which tracks the criminal activities of people associated with the Kremlin.

Gold exported from Sudan by the Russians is not recordedso it is difficult to determine its exact value. According to information from a whistleblower from the Sudanese central bank, 32.7 tons of gold, worth 1.9 billion dollars, disappeared in 2021. However, many sources estimate that the scale of the practice is larger, and about 90 percent is smuggled. all gold production in Sudan.

Several local journalistic circles that CNN used to prepare the article were targeted by the junta and had to emigrate. According to sources in the security structures CNN journalist Nima Elbagir is on the list of people the junta wants to get rid of.

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The plane searched in February in Khartoum left with cookies and a ton of gold. According to CNN high-ranking military personnel intervened in his case.

Some officials who detected smuggling were transferred to the provinces, and some were drafted into the army. – They paid for doing their job – told CNN a source familiar with the case.