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Sudanese anti-coup protesters gather amid ongoing protests against last month's widely condemned military takeover, in the capital Khartoum on November 17, 2021.-/AFP/Getty Images

Canadian lobbyist Ari Ben-Menashe says he is negotiating a contract with the military-dominated regime that took power after Sudan’s latest coup, even as Sudanese-Canadian activists launch a protest campaign to demand a ban on such contracts.

Mr. Ben-Menashe also disclosed that he is helping secure a deal that could allow Russia access to a Sudanese port on the Red Sea, a long-standing goal of the Kremlin and the Russian navy.

Sudan’s security forces have violently suppressed a wave of massive pro-democracy street protests since the military seized power in an Oct. 25 coup. At least 15 people were shot dead and dozens injured on Wednesday when security forces fired live ammunition and tear gas at protesters in the capital city of Khartoum and surrounding areas.

The latest military coup is the second in Sudan since 2019, and in both cases Mr. Ben-Menashe has provided advice to Sudanese military leaders after the takeovers, beginning with a US$6-million lobbying contract in 2019 in which he pledged to seek diplomatic support and weapons for the regime.

He was also hired as a lobbyist by Myanmar’s military junta this year, although he later terminated the contract because U.S. and Canadian sanctions on Myanmar (formerly Burma) had prevented him from being paid.

Sudanese-Canadian pro-democracy activists are planning a street demonstration in Ottawa this weekend as part of a campaign for an amendment to Canadian regulations to prohibit such lobbying on behalf of 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?”

Mr. Ben-Menashe, a former Israeli intelligence officer who heads the Montreal-based lobbying firm Dickens & Madson (Canada) Inc., signed a contract in 2019 with General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy leader of the transitional military council that took power after the coup that year.

Under the contract, the lobbying firm said it would obtain favourable media coverage of the military regime and seek funds and equipment for its soldiers and its security agencies.

Gen. Dagalo is a former leader of the notorious Janjaweed militia, widely accused of massacres and atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan. Today he 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, which prohibit the supply of weapons or related technical assistance to Sudan.

Mr. Ben-Menashe said he had extensive talks with the RCMP during the investigation, and that the RCMP later concluded he was not violating the sanctions. The Globe contacted the RCMP’s media relations department to seek comment on this, but there was no response by Thursday night.

Amnesty International, in a 2019 statement, called the Canadian company’s lobbying contract with the Sudanese military regime “deeply disturbing.” The contract could deepen the human-rights crisis in Sudan and could breach Canadian arms-control laws and regulations, it said.

The original US$6-million lobbying contract was a one-year agreement. But in a filing with U.S. authorities in July this year, Mr. Ben-Menashe said he had “continued to consult” with the Sovereign Council of Sudan, whose leader and deputy leader are both military officers.

In an interview with The Globe this week, Mr. Ben-Menashe said people from Gen. Dagalo’s office have called him several times since the Oct. 25 military coup to get his advice and to discuss another possible lobbying contract.

He said he expects to sign a contract soon, similar to the 2019 one, in which he would seek international support for Sudan’s military leaders and the new government they plan to set up. “They want us to help them do the same thing all over again, with different personalities that will be acceptable to the Americans,” he said.

“It would be civilians, but they would still be in control. They aren’t keen to let go. They want to keep control.”

Asked about the Sudanese-Canadian activists who are campaigning against such contracts, 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 US$5-million contract to help a Dubai-based logistics company, DP World, gain access to a terminal at Port Sudan, the main Sudanese port on the Red Sea. The facility could also benefit Moscow, he said.

In 2017, Russia began negotiating a deal with Sudan’s now-deposed dictator, Omar al-Bashir, to allow a Russian naval base at Port Sudan. Moscow announced last year that it had finalized the agreement. 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 clauses because they were “harmful.”

In the interview with The Globe this week, Mr. Ben-Menashe said he is facilitating agreements that could help Moscow gain access to a refuelling port near Port Sudan. This would happen after DP World obtains control of the site, which he expects to take place next year.

“It will probably be DP World operating it for the Russians – refuelling, loading and unloading and so on,” he said.

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