The findings suggest that these five Russian companies continue to support — via trade — Russian government-backed paramilitary operations in Sudan.
OFAC Targets Entities Linked to Evgeny Prigozhin
The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned three individuals and five companies tied to Evgeny Prigozhin on July 17. Of the eight sanctioned entities, two individuals and two companies are directly linked to Prigozhin’s network operating in Sudan, and are involved in mining, along with alleged attempts to suppress democratic and reform efforts in the country.
Evgeny Prigozhin, a Russian financier who is widely known as “Putin’s Chef,” controls the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company (PMC) operating on behalf of the Russian government.
The Wagner Group purportedly operates in various locations, including Ukraine, Syria, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and is now expanding its presence in Libya. Through Wagner, Prigozhin has a stake in gas and oil assets in Syria as well as a share of gold mining in Sudan.
The recent sanctions targeted two companies directly linked to Prigozhin’s operations in Sudan: M Invest, a Russia-based company owned by Prigozhin, along with its Sudan-based subsidiary Meroe Gold Co. Ltd. Meroe Gold is a mining company controlled by an individual named Mikhail Sergeevich Potepkin. The Russian federal tax registry lists Andrei Sergeevich Mandel as the general director of M Invest, located in Saint Petersburg. Both Potepkin and Mandel were sanctioned along with M Invest and Meroe Gold in July.
Meroe Gold and M Invest operate as enabling forces for Russian government-backed activities on the ground in Sudan by supplying equipment necessary for sustaining mercenaries and aiding mining operations.
Shipments from Russian Firms to Meroe Gold in Sudan
Meroe Gold has received hundreds of shipments from Russian firms in recent years. Between October 2017 and March 2020, the company received 854 shipments from five Russia-based businesses, according to commercial trade data.
The imports include a variety of goods required for sustaining military operations in the field, including equipment and vehicle parts, law enforcement batons and gear, and various food staples such as flour and other grains, as well as butter and condiments. The makeup of the shipments suggests that they are likely being used to support mercenaries and Russia-backed operations in Sudan.
The five companies that have exported goods to Meroe Gold since October 2017 are based out of Saint Petersburg and Krasnodar Krai, Russia, and include:
- Agro Kapital LLC
- Briz LLC
- Broker Ekspert LLC
- M Finans LLC
- Novolend LLC
Trade data reveals that Esnaad received 41 shipments between May 2019 and March 2020, mostly consisting of black tea, butter, pasta, and rice, as well as protective shields from Broker Ekspert LLC, Briz LLC, and M Finans. Esnaad’s role in receiving goods on behalf of Meroe Gold suggests that Esnaad could also be an additional company supporting Russian government-backed paramilitary operations in Sudan.
Wagner’s Footprint in the Central African Republic
Prigozhin, through Wagner, also has an established presence in the Central African Republic (CAR).
M Finans, one of the companies that has shipped various goods to Meroe Gold in Sudan, has a subsidiary in the CAR — Lobaye Invest Sarlu. Lobaye Invest Sarlu is a mining company that is connected to Prigozhin’s network, according to a report by CNN. The company has purportedly financed the training of army recruits in the CAR by Russian mercenaries. Additionally, the company funded a local radio station — Radio Lengo.
In 2018, Lobaye Invest was given exploration rights for diamonds and gold in seven different sites near Yawa and Pama in the CAR. Mercenaries linked to Prigozhin purportedly provide protection services for the mines.
The founder of Lobaye Invest is Yevgeny Garryevich Khodotov, according to news reports. Khodotov was also listed as the director and shareholder of M Finans in 2018, according to the Russian Federal Tax Registry; however, he has since come off the company.