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Journalists say Russian political strategists funded and advised at least six candidates in Madagascar’s 2018 presidential race

Andry Rajoelina casts his ballot in Madagascar’s second-round presidential election on December 19, 2018
Andry Rajoelina casts his ballot in Madagascar’s second-round presidential election on December 19, 2018
Sitraka Rajaonarison / Xinhua / Sipa USA / Vida Press

This January, Madagascar inaugurated President Andry Rajoelina, who defeated 35 rivals in two rounds of voting. According to a new report by the BBC Russian Service, at least six of those candidates — possibly including Rajoelina — received campaign financing from Russia.

BBC investigative journalists discovered that a large number of Russian political experts were involved in Madagascar’s 2018 presidential elections. The British news outlet doesn’t specify how many Russian consultants were active, but a report last month by the website Proekt cited a source who claims there were 15 to 20 strategists on the job.

The Russian political operatives’ work reportedly started in March 2018 and continued for almost a year. According to the BBC, the strategists entered the country as tourists and election observers, and then worked with high-ranking political officials. Two former candidates now speak openly about their collaboration with Russian political advisers: Andre Mailhol (who finished fourth in the first round of voting) and ex Prime Minister Omer Beriziky (who finished 24th).

Mailhol says he worked with three strategists from Russia — Andrey Kramar, Roman Pozdnyakov, and Vladimir Boyaryshev — claiming that they contributed 12,000 euros ($13,515) to his campaign, financed his television advertisements, and handed him 5,000 euros ($5,630) in cash.

Mailhol says he didn’t know specifically who was working for his campaign at the time, or whom they represented. He told reporters that he believes Russian consultants supported between eight and nine different candidates in the race. The organization Transparency International verifies that as many candidates received campaign financing from donors abroad. The BBC, meanwhile, says just six candidates worked with Russian political strategists.

Former Prime Minister Omer Beriziky says Russian consultants promised him $2 million, though he never received most of this money. Spokespeople for his campaign say he collaborated with Russian strategist Maxim Shugalei, who supposedly promised “technical support” and instructed Beriziky on how to get control over the election.

Andrey Kramar, Roman Pozdnyakov, and Vladimir Boyaryshev left Madagascar after an unpermitted protest in the capital against France. Several participants say they were paid to attend. After the demonstration, the local authorities expelled several Russian nationals on the grounds that they were working in Madagascar while there as tourists. Kramar, Pozdnyakov, and Boyaryshev have refused to speak to journalists, though the news outlet Openmedia.io says Kramar and Pozdnyakov used to work in Ukraine’s Donbas region.

The BBC says Russian strategists assisted several candidates at first, but redirected their support to Andry Rajoelina when he emerged as the clear front-runner. At this stage in the race, the Russian consultants also reportedly advised Andre Mailhol and Omer Beriziky to throw their support behind Rajoelina. Mailhol says the strategists abandoned him, when he refused.

During the election, Rajoelina told the BBC that he doesn’t consider himself Russia’s candidate. “I’m not any country’s candidate — I’m the candidate for the whole people of Madagascar,” he explained, refusing to say if his campaign received assistance from Russia. The BBC points out, meanwhile, that there is no evidence that Rajoelina ever accepted funding from Russia.

According to the BBC, St. Petersburg oligarch Evgeny Prigozhin is responsible for financing a team of Russian political strategists that travels Africa, offering money and advice to different candidates. Last November, the news agency Bloomberg also reported that “Putin’s notorious chef is now meddling across Africa.” The website Proekt claims that Prigozhin’s consultants collaborated with eight presidential candidates in Madagascar, including Andry Rajoelina.

Prigozhin’s representatives have told reporters that he “has no connection to any projects that might have provided political advising in Africa, or to any of the strategists” named by journalists.

Summary by Alexander Baklanov

Translation by Kevin Rothrock