The United States imposed sanctions on three Malian officials Monday, including the minister of defense, over accusations they facilitated the deployment and expansion of the Russian Wagner Group's activities in the country.
The U.S. Treasury Department said it imposed sanctions on Mali's Minister of Defense, Sadio Camara, who it said made several trips to Russia in 2021 to solidify an agreement between the Wagner Group and the Malian transition government to deploy the mercenary force to the West African country.
Also targeted in Monday's action was Mali’s Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Alou Boi Diarra, and Malian Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff, Adama Bagayoko, the department said in a statement.
"These officials have made their people vulnerable to the Wagner Group’s destabilizing activities and human rights abuses while paving the way for the exploitation of their country’s sovereign resources to the benefit of the Wagner Group’s operations in Ukraine," Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said.
Both Russia and Mali have said Russian fighters in the African nation are not mercenaries but trainers helping local troops fight a decade-long insurgency by Islamist militants.
In June, the United States said it was concerned about the Wagner Group's destabilizing activities in Africa and accused the leader of the mercenary force of helping to engineer the departure of U.N. peacekeepers from Mali.
White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters last month that the U.S. has information indicating Mali's transition government has paid more than $200 million to Wagner since late 2021.
In May, Washington also said the Wagner Group may be working through Mali and other countries to hide its efforts to acquire military equipment for use in Ukraine.