M-Invest, owned by Wagner PMC owner Yevgeny Prigozhin and operating in Sudan, paid millions of dollars to Aswar, a Sudanese military intelligence company, and in return received access to residence permits and weapons for its Russian personnel. This is stated in a joint investigation by OCCRP and Le Monde.
The journalists managed to gain access to a number of documents, including contracts, letters and internal memos, containing this and other information.
Aswar also received a contract to supply weapons and organize flights for the Russians on a Sudanese military aircraft. Apparently, they were given the right to use military signal codes and land on military air bases.
In exchange for all this, the Sudanese firm was paid large sums, including a "goodwill reward" of US$200,000 and another US$100,000 per month, while taxes and employee salaries were fully covered by the Russian company.
M-Invest's Sudanese subsidiary, Meroe Gold, is also favored by the Sudanese president, who has waived the government's claim to a 30 percent stake in several of its projects in its favor.
Experts interviewed by OCCRP say M-Invest's deal with the Sudanese army is particularly problematic because the army is known to be "deeply and systematically corrupt" and is also a major conduit for illegal weapons. According to Andrew Feinstein, anti-corruption specialist and author of Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade, M-Invest "effectively uses the criminal military to carry out its criminal activities."
Former World Bank senior operations officer Richard Messick, who now advises international organizations on legal development and fighting corruption, told the investigators that Wagner and the Sudanese military were "two of the blackest figures in the global economy."
“The question is how these deals [between Wagner and the Sudanese military companies] are carried out,” Messick said. “These are two really bad actors who shouldn't be allowed to buy guns anywhere. If the payment is in gold, it must be closed. If this happens through the international financial system, the sanctioning authorities must ensure that companies and individuals associated with them cannot have any [bank] accounts.”
Prigozhin has repeatedly denied any connection with Meroe Gold and, in general, with the Wagner PMC. For several years, he even sued the media that claimed that the Wagner PMC belonged to him. It wasn’t until September that Prigozhin admitted he founded the company, shortly after posting a video of him recruiting prisoners for the war in Ukraine.
Although Prigozhin has not publicly admitted ownership of Meroe, in July 2020 the US imposed sanctions on the company for ties to him. The Finance Ministry said that Meroe is owned by M-Invest, which in turn is owned or controlled by Prigozhin. According to the US, M-Invest covered the operations of PMC Wagner in Sudan while obtaining gold mining licenses.