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Wagner PMC-controlled firm rebrands and continues supply of African timber to the EU, AEOW reports

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Logging company Bois Rouge, controlled by the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC), has changed its name to Wood International Group (WIG) and continued supplying African timber to the European Union via Cameroon, according to a report by the nonprofit organization Earthsight, as well as an investigation by the All Eyes On Wagner (AEOW) project, which monitors the activities of the PMC around the world.

AEOW conducted its investigation with the support of CBS News, and found that after the first published report about the connection of Bois Rouge and the Wagner PMC in 2022, the company changed its name, hired a new director from Central Africa and a new Russian commercial director. To avoid inspections, the “new” WIG company uses an opaque logistics system and a military base in Kassai in the Central African Republic (CAR). Cameroon has also become a logistics platform for the Wagner Group. In 2022, the company exported 465 cubic meters of sapele wood to the EU, becoming the seventh largest exporter of wood to the EU from the CAR.

WoodGroup ApS – a Danish subsidiary of Woodbois Limited – which is listed on London's AIM stock exchange and was part of the Gabonese national delegation to the 2021 COP26 UN Climate Summit in Glasgow, was implicated in the trade. WoodGroup was Bois Rouge's biggest customer in the EU before it was embroiled in the scandal. According to customs documents, Bois Rouge sent three shipments of sapele wood to Woodbois in Denmark last year: two in April 2022 and another in mid-June. Woodbois calls itself a “leading global trader of African timber” on its website, which actively claims the company is “green” and committed to «ensuring ethical and fair conduct, and fighting corruption” – a vow that it says applies to both its logging operations and carefully-vetted suppliers.

Another secret contractor is the CAR's largest logging company, SEFCA, previously caught financing perpetrators of murder and war crimes. The company was the largest supplier of CAR timber to the EU last year, with large volumes going to Belgium, France and Italy. It is one of six firms in the country to receive zero percent for transparency on the Open Timber Portal, a project of the environmental think tank World Resources Institute (WRI) that allows wood vendors to verify suppliers in the Congo Basin. In 2013, SEFCA paid hundreds of thousands of euros to the Seleka rebel group that briefly took over the country's capital.

Customs records show that timber shipments to the EU continued even after leading European media outlets wrote about the Wagner Group’s connection to Bois Rouge. European and international companies have been buying wood all this time, and, as noted by AEOW, have “fallen prey” to the victims of Wagner's commercial activities.

Midas Ressources, “Wagner's gold mine,” was supplied with processing equipment, as well as European/international customers bought wood from Bois Rouge/WIG. For example, WIG was able to buy equipment from a European company for €936,675.05 – and has so far sold timber with a customs-registered value of €322,793.56 to European and international customers between 2022 and 2023.

Earthsight's findings reveal the EU’s “poor oversight” of the bloc’s “record imports of tropical hardwood from a fragile country with notoriously opaque forest governance.” Bois Rouge/WIG continues to benefit from a very favorable agreement with the government of the Central African Republic (CAR) – the company has received tax and other financial advantages, access to land and full control over it. The Central African government gave the company – then still called Bois Rouge – the rights to cut down an area of tropical rainforest larger than London, a home to elephants, gorillas and leopards. The company has no environmental and community management plan in place, and the African Aka pygmy people are abandoning the area due to continuous industrial activity.

Bois Rouge’s former commercial director Artem Tolmachev worked in two well-known companies affiliated with the founder of the Wagner PMC, Yevgeny Prigozhin: Service K LLC and Ferrum Mining LLC, which was a shareholder of a now-abandoned mining project in Madagascar. AEOW notes that Service K LLC is an “important structure within Prigozhin’s empire which overviews all human ressources aspects and staffing, especially to international operations.”

According to the investigators, Bois Rouge/WIG is also affiliated with Prigozhin through a company called Broker Expert, which is controlled by the Wagner chief. In November 2021, Bois Rouge and Broker Expert carried out twenty-eight transactions, according to the report.

In 2022, All Eyes On Wagner also conducted an open-source investigation and found that the PMC had obtained a 30-year forestry permit in the Congo Basin area. This land, according to the investigators, contains “one of the most significant tracts of undeveloped rainforest in the world.” Prigozhin's mercenaries already controlled the town of Boda in CAR by the time Bois Rouge won a tender allowing the woodland to be exploited on a reimbursable basis in 2021. Around the same time, FACA (the Central African governmental army), supported by Wagner mercenaries, began a military operation to remove rebel groups from the region. With the exploitation of 30% of the Congo Basin, the potential income from the sale of timber in the international markets may reach $890 million, meaning the continued export of timber can become a profitable business for Prigozhin’s PMC, according to the report.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the mercenary group’s founder, is under US sanctions. Despite being put in a list of the FBI's most wanted criminals in 2021, he continues to earn hundreds of millions of dollars from mining deals. A company associated with Prigozhin, Evropolis, received a concession in the Syrian energy sector from Bashar Al-Assad’s government in exchange for Wagner’s services – the PMC’s mercenaries captured several oil fields seized by the Islamic State. Evropolis has been under sanctions since 2018, which has not prevented the company from generating $90 million in net profit in 2020. Prigozhin-affiliated businesses also continue to operate in Sudan and the CAR.

The US Treasury Department has designated the Wagner PMC as a transnational criminal organization involved in serious criminal activities, including mass executions, sexual assault, child abductions and physical abuse.

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