By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - The US sanctioned three individuals and five entities Wednesday that are linked to Russia's private military Wagner Group.
The economic penalties all affected individuals and businesses with close ties to Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a businessman with links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and who is believed to be the financier behind the private military firm.
The Wagner Group has been instrumental in assisting Russia achieve its military goals in Ukraine, Sudan, Syria and Libya.
Prigozhin is already under US sanctions, but the new actions target previously non-sanctioned entities who aid him, the Treasury Department said in a statement.
In addition, the agency accused two of the businesses and two individuals of suppressing and discrediting democratic demonstrators in Sudan.
“Yevgeniy Prigozhin and his network are exploiting Sudan’s natural resources for personal gain and spreading malign influence around the globe,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “The United States remains committed to holding him and other bad actors accountable so Sudan and other countries can operate freely.”
Among those designated are M Invest, which the Treasury said is a front company for the Wagner Group's operations in Sudan owned by Prigozhin, as well as its Sudan subsidiary Meroe Gold and two individuals the US said are key to their operations.
Also sanctioned are Hong Kong and Thailand-based Shine Dragon Group Limited, Shen Yang Jing Cheng Machinery Imp&Exp. Co., and Zhe Jiang Jiayi Small Commodities Trade Company Limited. The companies helped Prigozhin carry out US dollar transactions exceeding $7.5 million, the department said.
The sanctions announcement came just hours after US Africa Command accused the Wagner Group of "complicating Libyan ceasefire efforts" by placing mines and other explosive devices in and around the Libyan capital of Tripoli. It included photos of what appeared to be booby-traps and improvised mines that it said were placed by the Wagner Group.
“The Russian-state sponsored Wagner Group is demonstrating a total disregard for the safety and security of Libyans,” said Africa Command director of operations Maj. Gen. Bradford Gering. “The Wagner Group’s irresponsible tactics are prolonging conflict and are responsible for the needless suffering and the deaths of innocent civilians. Russia has the power to stop them, just not the will.”
The Wagner Group has 2,000 personnel in Libya, according to the command.