The Bell: Gold in exchange for mercenaries: how "Putin's cook" gets the "key to Africa" for Russia
The Bell – Anastasia Yakoreva – June 4, 2018
As it became known to The Bell, after the meeting of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev with Sudanese President Omar Bashir, a company associated with Yevgeny Prigozhin began to search for gold in this country. The fighters of the Wagner PMC also went there.
Yevgeny Prigozhin’s structures got the opportunity to work in Sudan immediately after last year’s talks between Putin and Medvedev with the president of this country, Omar Bashir.
- Putin’s meeting with Bashir took place at the end of November 2017 at the Sochi residence “Bocharov Ruchey”, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was present at the talks. The presidents talked about the possible creation of a Russian military base on the Red Sea. Bashir then said that his country needs protection from the “aggressive” policy of the United States. The President of the Sudan himself is accused of genocide in Darfur and is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. These negotiations were serviced by Prigozhin’s catering company Concord M, according to one of the interlocutors of The Bell.
- At the same time, Medvedev met with Bashir. The government’s website says that they discussed issues of trade and economic cooperation, and following the talks signed several agreements – for example, on visa-free travel for holders of diplomatic passports. In the general package of documents, concession agreements for gold mining were also signed between the Ministry of Mineral Resources of the Republic of Sudan and the unknown M Invest LLC.
- The firm’s Unit in Sudan called Meroe Gold has already begun exploration in Sudan, two sources familiar with the November talks told The Bell. Both claim that M Invest represents Prigozhin.
Exploration is carried out in five areas, in total, about 50 geologists and other specialists are involved in the work, says one of them. It is unclear how much production the company expects. As of 2016, Sudan ranked third in gold production in Africa with a production volume of over 90 tons per year. In 2017, the Sudanese government planned to reach volumes of 100 tons per year and enter the top 10 gold-mining countries in the world. According to China’s Xinhua news agency, Sudan even surpassed that figure last year.
The fact that “M Invest” is associated with Evgeny Prigozhin can be judged by a number of indirect signs:
- M Invest was registered in February 2017 in St. Petersburg. The head and co-owner of M Invest, Andrei Mandel, used to head the Company Eurogroup, which Fontanka associated with Prigozhin. The connection of this company with Prigozhin drew the attention of the publication “Genline” in its blog on Medium.
- The second co-owner of M Invest is Evgeny Ushakov, who through a chain of firms and their owners is connected with the owners of Megaline, a company half of which until 2011 belonged to Concord Management and Consulting of Evgeny Prigozhin. In 2015-2016, Megaline won numerous tenders of the Ministry of Defense, in which other structures of Prigozhin also participated .
- On the part of M Invest, the concession agreement with Sudan was signed by its regional director Mikhail Potepkin. This is a business partner of Anna Bogacheva, an alleged employee of the “troll factory”, who is also associated with Prigozhin. Bogacheva became one of the defendants in robert Muller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the American elections and fell under US sanctions. Together with Potepkin, she has owned I.T. Debagger since 2014.
- A spokesman for Prigozhin did not respond to The Bell’s request.
The material was first published in The Bell newsletter. You can subscribe to it here
Reconnaissance by combat
This year, not only geologists went to Sudan, but also fighters of the Wagner PMC, which is also associated with the name of Yevgeny Prigozhin. This was first reported in December by the BBC Russian Service.
In February, Bashir said that there is a program between Moscow and Khartoum to develop Sudan’s combat capability, designed to repel external threats, including from the United States, which the Sudanese president during talks with Putin accused of destabilizing the situation in the region. Sudan gained independence in 1956, and since then the civil war has practically not stopped in the country. In 2011, South Sudan seceded and was recognized as an independent state, but clashes with the central authorities did not stop.
Prigozhin’s mercenaries are now training military units of the Sudanese government, according to four interlocutors of The Bell, including from competing structures. One of them said that the number of contingent exceeds a hundred people. Whether they are engaged in the protection of the sites that M Invest received in the concession, and civilian specialists who arrived from Russia, it was not possible to find out. But such a scheme of work of Prigozhin’s structure has already been tested in Syria.
Fighters of the Wagner PMC have also been present in Syria since 2016. Around the same time , according to Fontanka, the company Europolis, which is associated with Prigozhin, concluded a framework agreement with the government of Bashar al-Assad, according to which it claimed a quarter of the total volume of oil and gas produced from the fields won with the participation of PMCs. RBC, citing a source close to Prigozhin, wrote that he really expected to start earning on Syrian oil and regarded this as dividends from the conduct of hostilities.
According to The Bell, Europolis signed binding agreements on work in Syria shortly before the February military clash in the province of Deir ez-Zor. Kommersant, citing a Russian military source, wrote that the cause of the incident was allegedly an attempt by Syrian “major businessmen, currently supporting Bashar al-Assad”, to seize oil and gas fields under the control of the Kurds , US allies. As a result of the collision, according to various sources, from a dozen to more than two hundred people were killed by fighters of the Wagner PMC.
The Key to Africa
“We can say that Sudan can be Russia’s key to Africa,” Bashir said at a November meeting with Putin. The activity of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s structures is really noticeable in other countries on the continent.
- In Madagascar, South Africa and Kenya, Russian political scientists are conducting sociological research, Kommersant wrote in April. According to the publication, Prigozhin also finances this, and is coordinated by political scientist Yaroslav Ignatovsky.
- Madagascar is expected to elect a new president and parliament this year, and South Africa next year. “But the implication is that the project is long-term, for about two years. The situation in African countries is unstable, elections can be called unexpectedly, “explained a source familiar with the project of the publication.
- In addition, employees of the Wagner PMC train the armed forces of the Central African Republic, according to one of the sources of The Bell. In the spring of this year, the Foreign Ministry officially stated that 170 civilian instructors would be sent to the CAR “to train CAR servicemen.”
- Gold mining in Sudan, in addition to M Invest, is engaged in the structure of the company Kush for exploration & production CO.Ltd. – In November, it received new concessions in the country. Until 2016, it was controlled by Gazprombank. Since 2013, it has invested about $ 80 million in the exploration and development of deposits in Sudan, and its total production amounted to about 2.5 tons of gold, one of the interlocutors told The Bell. In addition to gold mining, Kush was also engaged in educational activities in Sudan – for example, in 2013, in the presence of Sergey Lavrov, the company opened a center for the study of the Russian language named after A.S. Pushkin in Khartoum. Who now controls this company is unknown. Gazprombank, which had 17% left in it, did not respond to The Bell’s request. Director of Kush for exploration & production CO.Ltd Evgeny Alexandrov declined to comment.
- Businessman Konstantin Malofeev, who actively helped Novorossiya, was also interested in gold mining in Sudan, three interlocutors of The Bell say. He even personally came to Sudan, but did not invest yet (Malofeev himself refused to talk to The Bell).
- Prigozhin, Malofeev, and Gazprombank are under U.S. sanctions.