U.S. Sanctions Companies Linked to Wagner Group’s African Gold Racket

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his meeting with officers of Russian army a
Contributor/Getty Images

The U.S. Treasury Department on Tuesday announced sanctions against four companies linked to the infamous Wagner Group and its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Treasury said the companies were helping Wagner finance its paramilitary operations in Africa by “exploiting natural resources in countries like the Central African Republic and Mali,” especially gold mines.

ROSTOV-ON-DON, RUSSIA - JUNE 24: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY - MANDATORY CREDIT - "WAGNER / HANDOUT" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) A screen grab captured from a video shows Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin (2nd L) after Headquarters of the Southern Military District surrounded by fighters of the paramilitary Wagner group in Rostov-on-Don, Russia on June 24, 2023. (Photo by Wagner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

A screen grab captured from a video shows Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin (2nd L) after Headquarters of the Southern Military District surrounded by fighters of the paramilitary Wagner group in Rostov-on-Don, Russia on June 24, 2023. (Photo by Wagner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

“The Wagner Group exploits insecurity around the world, committing atrocities and criminal acts that threaten the safety, good governance, prosperity, and human rights of nations, as well as exploiting their natural resources,” the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) noted.

“The United States will continue to target the Wagner Group’s revenue streams to degrade its expansion and violence in Africa, Ukraine, and anywhere else,” declared Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson.

The entities targeted for sanctions are based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Russia, and the Central African Republic (CAR) itself. Also listed for sanctions was a Russian individual, Andrey Nikolayevich Ivanov, an executive who oversees the Wagner Group’s operations in the CAR and Mali.

Members of Wagner group looks from a military vehicle with the sign read as “Brother” in Rostov-on-Don late on June 24, 2023. (ROMAN ROMOKHOV/AFP via Getty Images)

According to the Treasury statement, the targeted entities are systematically looting the CAR of millions of dollars in gold to finance the Wagner Group’s brutal mercenary operations. Prigozhin allegedly controls a network of companies in Africa that siphon money from diamond and precious metal mining operations into Wagner’s coffers.

One of the sanctioned companies, CAR-based Midas Resources, allegedly prevented CAR government officials from inspecting the massive Ndassima gold mine, which Wagner has been using as a piggy bank. The Ndassima mine could be sitting on over a billion dollars in gold.

The Treasury Department accused other sanctioned companies of helping Wagner convert its ill-gotten gold into cash and evading U.S. sanctions against Russian financial institutions. One of the companies, Prigozhin-controlled but CAR-based Diamville, also helped smuggle diamonds for Wagner to European and Emirati buyers.

BAMBARI, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC - MAY 19: Gold miners in Ndassima gold mine, 40 Km of Bambari, in Seleka group controlled zone, in the Eastern part of CAR. Independent gold panners run the mine and it is impossible to enter there without getting permission from the Seleka commanders. (Photo by Thierry Bresilion/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Gold miners in Ndassima gold mine, 40 Km of Bambari, in Seleka group-controlled zone, in the Eastern part of CAR. (Thierry Bresilion/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

In addition to keeping Wagner’s gold and diamond rackets humming along, Ivanov was accused of working with a Prigozhin operation called Africa Politology that uses information warfare to turn Africans against the United Nations and Western peacekeeping operations, so they would become more agreeable to Wagner providing “security” instead.

The Wagner Group was designated as a “significant transnational criminal organization” in January 2023.

“Wagner Group personnel have engaged in an ongoing pattern of serious criminal activity, including mass executions, rape, child abductions, and other brutalities against innocents in the CAR and Mali,” the Treasury Department noted.

Head of the Wagner Group Yevgeny Prigozhin left the Southern Military District headquarters on June 24, 2023, in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. (Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The U.S. State Department said the fresh sanctions against Wagner-linked entities in Africa have no connection to Prigozhin’s short-lived insurrection against Russian military commanders last weekend.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Monday that the Biden administration was considering a delay in the Wagner gold sanctions because it did not want to “appear to be taking sides” in the dispute between Wagner boss Prigozhin and Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. 

“Washington has had a strategy in place to target, isolate and weaken Wagner’s growth in Africa. But continuing that approach now potentially puts Washington in the difficult position of assisting Putin,” ventured Cameron Hudson, former chief of staff for the U.S. special envoy to Sudan.

The Associated Press

In this image taken from video and released on Saturday, May 20, 2023, by the press service of Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner private military contractor, his forces wave Russian and Wagner flags atop a damaged building in Bakhmut, Ukraine. (Prigozhin Press Service via AP)

If the WSJ’s sources on Monday were correct, it is not clear what changed the Biden administration’s thinking and made it decide to pull the trigger on Wagner sanctions on Thursday. One possibility is that Putin’s regime is moving aggressively to take control of Wagner operations and assets after Prigozhin abandoned his mutiny and sought refuge in Belarus, so targeting Wagner is now little different than targeting Putin.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday that Wagner’s “work will continue” in Mali and the CAR. The WSJ reported on Wednesday that Putin officials are fanning out across the globe, informing Wagner clients in Africa and the Middle East that operations will “continue without interruption” – but “under new management.”

“The fate of Wagner operations now hinges on whether the Kremlin can simultaneously marginalize Prigozhin and maintain the empire he built on three continents. Some national security officials, sizing up the prospects, say Washington may have an opening to regain influence on a continent where Russia and China have been digging in,” the WSJ predicted, offering a clue as to why the Treasury Department suddenly plowed ahead with sanctions aimed squarely at Wagner’s shady income streams.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.