Russia’s Wagner Group could make millions from exploitation of African rainforest

A group of investigative journalists have exposed the commercial activities of Russian mercenary group Wagner in the Central African Republic, where they say it has received vast concessions of tropical rainforest.


Image : Grzegorz / Adobe stock

A recent report by European Investigative Collaborations (EIC), a transnational investigative journalism project, claims that the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary group with close links to the regime of Vladimir Putin and active in the Ukraine war, is engaged in the forestry business in the Central African Republic (CAR).

The report Bois Rouge was conducted in collaboration with All Eyes on Wagner, an open-source investigative project by French NGO OpenFacto that tracks Wagner’s global influence.

Wagner, which is reputed to be run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch and close confidante of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has long been reported to offer private security services to African partners – among them the CAR, Mali, and Sudan – in return for exclusive rights to gold and diamond mining in strategic areas.

However, All Eyes on Wagner says that Wagner’s interests also extend to the forestry trade in the CAR. 

Rainforest concession linked to Wagner activity

On 9 February 2021, according to the report, a forestry permit was allocated to a company called Bois Rouge (“Redwood Trees”) in the prefecture of Lobaye. The area is situated in the Congo Basin and contains some of the largest undeveloped tracts of rainforest in the world. All Eyes on Wagner says that the 30-year concession gives Bois Rouge access to over approximately 186,596 hectares of forest.

Although Bois Rouge is registered in the CAR, where it was created on 22 March 2019, and is apparently headed by a local woman, the project says that earlier registry filings presented it as a Russian company selling wood from Central Africa, represented by two Russians.

“While we cannot go further in investigating these two individuals in open sources, we get more evidence that Bois Rouge is more Russian than African. Thanks to photos obtained by EIC/OpenFacto we can see many white Caucasian men working at the Bois Rouge concession along with a lot of Russian equipment.”

The report argues that, around the same time an exploitation permit was granted to Bois Rouge in February 2021, multiple military operations were jointly launched by the FACA (Central African governmental army) and Wagner mercenaries in several cities located in the Lobaye region to remove rebel armed groups.

“We know for sure Wagner mercenaries were in control of Boda and its areas [sic] by the time Bois Rouge was awarded the forestry concession tender.”

All Eyes on Wagner argues that the forestry concession could yield considerable profits for the company.

“Taking the hypothesis that 30% of the concession is exploited, the revenue potential could reach 890 million dollars on international markets, which is significant,” write the authors. “Even if such numbers should be refined and some inputs are missing, wood exports could be a profitable business for the Wagner/Prigozhin galaxy and a way to bring back cash to a sanctioned Russia.”

The report also states that Bois Rouge is importing a lot of equipment from Russia, mostly heavy machinery or machine parts.

It finds evidence of trading with Broker Expert, a St Petersburg-based company known to be trading with other Wagner/Prigozhin companies.

“The company [appears] to play a role in sourcing specific equipment and re-exporting them to Prigozhin’s operational entities,” says the report.

Cash-based transactions

In August, journalist Mathieu Olivier reported that Wagner uses the Cameroonian port of Douala as a hub for the transit of goods in the region. According to Olivier’s sources, the activity takes place through a company called International Global Logistic (IGL), which is unofficially controlled by Wagner, allowing it to import and export goods using a purely cash-based system.

In Africa, Wagner mercenaries are involved in security activities in Mali and the CAR, but are also reported to be affiliated with oil, gas, and mining interests in other parts of the continent.

The latest revelations of Wagner's African activities came as Russia seeks to reinforce diplomatic and trade ties with African partners as it finds itself increasingly isolated from the West over its invasion of Ukraine.

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