According to corporate records, the sanctioned Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin earned more than $250 million from his global natural resources empire in the four years preceding Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
An investigation revealed that years of western sanctions on the creator of the Wagner mercenary group did not prevent hundreds of millions of dollars from going to Prigozhin from oil, gas, diamond, and gold extraction. Wagner has been accused of human rights violations including murder, torture, and rape in nearly every country in which it has operated.
Since 2018, revenues from Prigozhin's mercenary-backed businesses in countries such as Sudan and Syria have enabled the Kremlin-backed catering magnate to emerge as a major warlord in President Vladimir Putin's complete invasion of Ukraine.
The accounts of Wagner-backed companies sanctioned by the U.S., the European Union, and the United Kingdom for being controlled by Prigozhin, as well as those yet unsanctioned that were revealed in leaked legal documents were analyzed and the statistics reveal for the first time the financial scope of what Washington has termed a "transnational criminal organization."
The analysis ignores Prigozhin's domestic Russian catering and real estate enterprises, which have won substantial state contracts and constitute a substantial portion of his riches.
The US Treasury stated last month that Wagner, which has recruited tens of thousands of Russian prisoners to fight in Ukraine, was involved in "serious criminal activity, including mass executions, rape, child abductions, and physical abuse in the Central African Republic and Mali."
Wagner Group's international mercenary and propaganda operations in favor of dictators and military strongmen have given the Kremlin with a deniable foreign policy instrument while enriching its founder.
Prigozhin denied any association with the Wagner group and its worldwide mercenary operations for years until last year, when he admitted forming the group in 2014 and appeared in a video recruiting fighters in a Russian prison colony.
In contrast to Prigozhin, who was first sanctioned by the US in December 2016 and placed on the FBI's most wanted list in 2021, Wagner's natural resources firms in Africa and the Middle East were mostly unaffected by a bombardment of sanctions.
In 2018, the United States government sanctioned Evro Polis, a business headed by Prigozhin that was granted energy concessions by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in exchange for German mercenaries recovering oilfields from ISIS during the country's civil conflict.
The sanctions had a minor impact on Evro Polis's operations, as seen by the company's projected 2020 revenues of $134 million and net earnings of $90 million.
This represented a 180 percent return on shareholder equity, which was repatriated to Russia. Two months before the invasion, in December 2021, the corporation recorded a contract-related decline in income to just over $400,000, but it still had $92 million in cash on hand.
Several Prigozhin mercenary operations have continued to trade after being sanctioned while being far smaller. M Invest, a gold-mining firm in Sudan that was sanctioned by the US government in July 2020, nonetheless made $2.6 million in revenue the following year.
Through the end of 2021, two companies that, according to export documents, supplied substantial quantities of industrial equipment to Wagner-backed companies in Sudan and Central African Republic collected more than $6 million in revenue.
The records also indicate that certain companies owned by Prigozhin appeared to transfer their operations to other entities prior to western efforts to shut them down. Mercury LLC, a firm active in the Syrian oil industry that was sanctioned by the EU in 2021, generated 67 million dollars in sales in the three years prior to the designation, but reported zero revenues subsequently.
The analysis of Wagner-backed companies in the natural resources sector is based on their most current available financial statements through December 2021. At current currency rates, the rouble revenues and profits reported by these enterprises in Russia have been converted back to dollars.
In reaction to a recent report concerning his business operations and sanctions evasion, Prigozhin stated on the Concord catering group's Telegram channel, "“I consider any sanctions against me, PMC Wagner, as well as any legal entities and individuals of the Russian Federation, to be absolutely illegal . . ."
"I spit and I will spit on any sanctions"
In response to another regarding Wagner's activities in Africa, which included killings and propaganda, he acknowledged that the article was accurate but claimed that he was not making substantial profits. He wrote, "The Financial Times, if you don’t know, this is a British publication, published an article about the Wagner PMC, where much seems to be true. Except for the last part, where they talk about my financial enrichment."
By fLEXI tEAM