Yevgeny Prgozhin’s interests in natural resources outside Russia are barely affected by years of western sanctions
Western sanctions against the Wagner mercenary group founder did not stop hundreds of millions from flowing to Prigozhin through oil, gas and diamond extraction. Wagner was accused of human rights violations, including murder and torture in nearly every country it operated in.
Since 2018, revenues from Prigozhin’s mercenary backed businesses in countries like Sudan and Syria have helped the Kremlin supported catering magnate emerge in power as a warlord in President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion in Ukraine.
The accounts of Wagner-backed businesses were already sanctioned by the US and EU for being controlled under Prigozhin. Leaked legal documents also revealed that there are still unannounced companies. Washington called the “transnational criminal organization” and the results show for the first time the financial size of the company.
This analysis does not include Prigozhin’s Russian-language catering and real estate businesses. These have received large state contracts, and are a significant portion of his fortune.
Last month, the US Treasury stated that Wagner had been involved in serious criminal activity. This included mass executions, child abductions and physical abuse in Central African Republic and Mali.
The Wagner Group’s overseas mercenary operations and propaganda operations in support of dictators have given the Kremlin a defensible foreign policy tool, while also enriching its founder.
Prigozhin has denied any connection with the Wagner group or its international mercenary operation until last year when he admitted to having founded it in 2014.
Prigozhin was sanctioned for the first time in December 2016. He was also placed on the FBI most wanted list in 2021. However, the west continued to scrutinize Wagner’s natural resource businesses in Africa and in the Middle East.
The US government sanctioned Evro Polis in 2018. This Prigozhin-controlled firm was granted energy concessions by Bashar al-Assad. It was given these concessions in exchange for Wagner mercenaries who liberated oilfields from Isis during Syria’s civil war.
Evro Polis’s accounts reveal that sanctions had little effect on its operations. The company continued to operate in 2020, generating sales of $134mn and net profits $90mn.
This represented a 180 percent return on shareholders’ equity, which was then repatriated back to Russia. Two months prior to the invasion, in December 2021, the company reported a contract-related decline in revenues of just over $400,000, but maintained $92mn cash on its balance sheets.
Other Prigozhin mercenary businesses are smaller, but they continue to trade despite being sanctioned. M Invest was a company that operated in gold mining in Sudan. It was sanctioned in July 2020 by the US government. However, it still generated $2.6 million in sales the year after.
Two companies that exported records reveal have shipped large amounts of industrial equipment to Wagner-backed businesses in Central African Republic and Sudan, generating more than $6mn in revenue up to 2021.
These accounts also reveal how some Prigozhin controlled companies switched their operations to other entities before western attempts to close them down. Mercury LLC was a company that operated in the Syrian oil sector. It was sanctioned in 2021 by the EU. However, it declared zero revenues after the designation.
This analysis of Wagner-backed natural resource companies is based upon their most recent accounts, up to December 2021. These companies have declared Russian revenues and profits, which were converted to dollars at the current exchange rates.
In response to a recent article on his business activities, and sanctions evasion, Prigozhin wrote: “I consider any sanction against me, PMC Wagner as well as any legal entities or individuals of the Russian Federation to be absolutely illegal.” . . I spit, and I will spit any sanctions.”
He responded to another article on Wagner activities in Africa, which included murders and propaganda. However, he claimed that the article was accurate, but that he wasn’t making large profit.