Rusal Names Controversial Former Ambassador as Head of Guinea Office

The world’s second-largest aluminum producer, Rusal, has named a controversial former Russian ambassador to Guinea to head its unit in the West African nation, Bloomberg reports.

According to the news outlet, the move is raising local fears of Russian influence on next year’s presidential elections.

Alexander Bregadze, who served as ambassador to Guinea for eight years until March, was appointed on Friday, the aluminum giant announced. The diplomat sparked a public outcry in January when he praised Guinea’s President Alpha Conde in a speech on state TV as “legendary” and said constitutions aren’t dogma and can be changed.

Guinea is among several African countries with vast mineral wealth where Russia has pushed to expand its military and political influence in recent years.

Bregadze’s comments came as Guinea’s opposition and civil-society groups have repeatedly expressed concern that 81-year-old Conde may try to amend the constitution and run for a third term. While Conde is due to step down in 2020, his refusal to address any questions about his intentions has fueled widespread speculation he plans to stay in office.

A spokesman for Rusal’s Guinea office, Yuriy Grigoryev, couldn’t be reached when contacted on Saturday.

Guinea, which has the world’s largest bauxite reserves, is Rusal’s single biggest supplier of the ore. Rusal operates in Guinea through its subsidiary Compagnie des Bauxite de Kindia, or CBK, and is developing the Dian-Dian bauxite deposit which has reserves estimated at 564 million tons.