The head of Russia's Wagner Group accused France on Friday of sending a mail bomb to one of its employees at its representative office in the Central African Republic.
Dmitry Syty, head of the “Russian House”, was taken to hospital in the capital Bangui. By late afternoon, his condition was reported as serious, but stable, the RIA Novosti news agency cited the Russian embassy as saying.
Yevgeny Prigozhin — founder of the once-secretive private military contractor Wagner Group, which has supported the CAR's army since 2018 — blamed France for the attack.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said the claims were false.
“It's even a good example of Russian propaganda and the fanciful imagination that sometimes characterises this propaganda,” she told journalists during a trip to Morocco.
The Wagner Group has gained wider attention in recent months due to its reported role in Russia's war in Ukraine
France is the former colonial ruler of CAR, a gold- and diamond-rich country of 4.7 million people whose government is fighting several rebel insurgencies. Since 2018, the government has been assisted by hundreds of Russian operatives, including many from Wagner.
“Before losing consciousness, Dmitry Syty managed to say: 'I saw a note: This is for you from all the French, the Russians will get out of Africa',” Mr Prigozhin, who styles himself as a strong supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said on Telegram.
He called Mr Syty “a patriot of Russia and the Central African Republic”.
Mr Prigozhin said he had asked Russian Foreign Ministry to open a procedure for declaring France a state sponsor of terrorism.
The ministry said the act aimed to “harm the successful development of friendly relations” between Russia and the CAR.
RIA Novosti quoted an unnamed senior CAR source as saying the country would co-operate with Russia in the investigation.
French President Emmanuel Macron has accused Russia of stoking anti-French propaganda in Africa to serve “predatory” ambitions on the continent, where Paris has suffered military setbacks and a wider loss of influence in recent years.