On Facebook, Instagram, moderation is effective, content monitored. The user can still find diamonds for sale. The origin of these stones remains difficult to prove. Normally, the Kimberley Process allows for solid certifications, avoiding the circulation of blood diamonds. But our investigation reveals that behind a post is at the other end of the chain Russian mercenaries.
Lanadiamanter, probably this name does not raise any questions. It is a Facebook account created on January 8, 2020 that sells diamonds online. "All diamonds are available for you [...] all your dreams are in Diamville," reads the first post. The photos and the various posts on this profile show gemstones without highlighting their origin. What if these diamonds had an illicit or dubious origin?
The investigation by the European Investigative Collaboration (EIC), the All Eyes on Wagner collective and the Dossier Center reveals that behind this social media account lies at the other end of the chain of Wagner's Russian mercenaries and that their diamonds are for sale online. While Wagner's interest in minerals is proven and partially documented, this is the first time that a company charged with selling and exporting these gemstones has been connected to the Prigozhin galaxy through numerous facts and documents, and that some of its methods are detailed by local sources who have agreed to speak despite very significant risks to their safety.
In June 2020, in an interview with Sputnik, the Russian media, Leopold Mboli Fatran, the Central African Minister of Mines, mentions Diamville: "Two Russian companies now have permits in the field of mining. Lobaye Invest for mining research in Lobaye and the new company called Diamville which holds a diamond purchase license for import-export". According to the Central African Trade Register (CAR), Diamville was created in March 2019 and is domiciled next to the University of Bangui. Its director is a Central African national.
Russia, Central African Republic, diamonds, Lobaye, so many key words that remind us of Wagner's mercenaries. Present in Ukraine, Mali and Sudan, these men are accused of rape, murder and torture. They are under the orders of Yevgeny Prigozhin, nicknamed Putin's Cook because of his early business activities in the Kremlin. Prigozhin is above all an oligarch close to President Vladimir Putin. Behind this troop of mercenaries, there is a set of companies that finance weapons but also the coffers of the silovarque. RTS with the EIC and All Eyes on Wagner had detailed in July the case of Bois Rouge.
Another "Made in Wagner" company
The email left in the commercial register data leads to the Facebook account of Diamville where a gemologist, Svetlana Troitskaia, introduces herself as the representative of the company and regularly stages herself with the diamonds she wants to sell. According to her background, she is an experienced gemologist with an engineering degree. On her LinkedIn profile, Svetlana Troitskaia says she worked on a Russian-African business project from 2018 to 2020: sales, strategy, certifications. This job connects it to the Prigozhine galaxy.
Based on documents shared and verified by the Dossier Center – an NGO funded by Russian opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky – Svetlana Troitskaia was hired in August 2018 by Service K Ltd, a St. Petersburg-based company.
A second woman active in this structure is the representative of Service K. She is no stranger to Yevgeny Prigozhin's network of enterprises. According to data obtained by the Dossier Center, and verified by the EIC and All eyes on Wagner, she is also a representative of Mercury LLC, which now has oil and gas licenses in Syria. According to the documents consulted, the Service K representative would also play a human resources role within the galaxy of operating companies linked to Wagner. She would be responsible for human resources in several companies affiliated with Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Above all, and finally, the name of gemologist Svetlana Troitskaia also appears in an accounting document obtained and verified by the Dossier Center, a document from M Finance, dated October 2018. This company, still based in St. Petersburg, was placed under sanctions by the US Treasury in September 2020 because of its links with Yevgeny Prigozhin and the Wagner Group. This document confirms that the Facebook diamond seller is employed as an appraiser by Service K and is based in CAR throughout the month.
These dates and facts are consistent with another document concerning the gemologist: on the basis of airline tickets held and verified by the Dossier Center, Svetlana Troitskaia landed in Bangui on September 14, 2018. She appears in a photo apparently taken in the sub-prefecture of Mbaïki with Wagner's personalities: Dimitri Sytyi, in charge of Central African affairs for the Company, and Yevgeny Kopot, political advisor. The city of Mbaïki is located in the prefecture of Lobaye, a region where several companies from the Wagnerian galaxy are located, such as Bois Rouge for example. The official "director" of Diamville, according to the commercial register of the CAR, seems to be one of the drivers of Dimitri Sytyi according to telecommunication information transmitted to the EIC by the NGO Dossier Center.
Why go through this complex assembly of companies – Diamville, Service K, M Finance – to make the gemologist work? When asked, neither Diamville, nor Svetlana Troitskaia, nor Dimitri Sytyi, nor Yevgeny Prigozhin answered these questions.
Central African diamonds
Diamonds in the Central African Republic have always been the subject of investigations and scandals. How can we forget the affair that made headlines in the late 1970s when Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and Jean-Bedel Bokassa were exposed? More recently, political instability and numerous coups have weakened the mining industry in the heart of Africa. Bangui was banned from exporting diamonds between 2013 and 2015 to curb violence by armed groups to control mines.
Diamonds offered on Instagram. [Instagram/Lanadiamanter]Since 2015, only stones from a few cities and mines can be exported through authorized export companies and following the Kimberley Process. An international agreement between States, diamond professionals and civil society organizations set up in 2003 to combat the trade in blood minerals, this regulatory tool certifies that rough diamonds exported from a participating country are assumed to be "conflict-free".
Diamville is featured in a USAID report this summer. It is listed as one of CAR's top four diamond exporters. The permanent secretariat of the Kimberley Process in Bangui counted 43,562 carats exported from January to June 2022, or 42% of the 103,647 carats exported in 2021. To date, diamonds exported in 2022 are valued at approximately 3.37 billion CFA francs (5 million Swiss francs).
CCO, Badica, Dunta and Diamville are the top four exporters between January and June 2022. According to the Ministry of Mines, 80% of diamonds are gem quality, i.e. certified clarity and clarity. The quality of these stones places the country fifth in the world. In 2010, diamond exports accounted for 11% of the country's revenues, 10 years later this figure is close to 1%.
Despite the establishment of the Kimberley Process, this wealth has not benefited Central Africans. According to the Kimberley Process Secretariat and the World Bank, part of the mining revenues of the past decade have financed rebel groups and at least 30% of the diamonds harvested leave the Central African Republic illegally. Since Faustin Archange Touadéra took power, diamond production has not reached 2012 levels.
Red zones, corruption and possible human rights violations
The question remains: where exactly do the diamonds sold by Diamville come from, and under what conditions were they extracted? The Kimberley Process lists the regions of the Central African Republic where diamonds are supposed to be exploited without risk of contributing to the financing of the war – eight sub-prefectures in total, located in the west of the country, relatively untouched by the fighting.
Prospectors searching for gold and diamonds near Gaga, Central African Republic. [Goran Tomasevic - Reuters]Do these diamonds come from these green zones, or possibly from red zones? Were they produced by Lobaye Invest, another Wagner-linked company active in the country, which is now reportedly headed by Dimitri Sytyi – the Wagner executive pictured with gemologist Svetlana Troitskaia? According to mining permits available online, Lobaye Invest has received authorization to mine diamonds and gold in five localities, four of which are located in these "red zones" according to the Kimberley process: Bangassou, Ouadda, Bria and Sam-Ouandja. These permits, granted in April and June 2018, are granted for a renewable period of three years.
The company is known for its proximity to the Wagner Group. Yevgeny Khodotov, a former St. Petersburg police officer, manages the companies M-Finance and Lobaye Invest on behalf of the master of the Wagner brand. He is registered on Central African official documents as managing director. His name appears in an order signed by the Minister of Mines on July 25, 2018.
The Lanadiamanter Facebook page does not specify the origin of the goods it offers. A message left on Instagram by Svetlana Troitskaia on September 11, 2020 suggests that they are indeed from the Central African Republic: "We are ready to offer you an exclusive contract for rough stones from the heart of Africa!" reads a post touting direct selling.
The Russians are all over the territory, especially in mining areas. Where they control militarily, they exploit. And where they don't control militarily, they still pass from time to time, take what people have [as minerals], and kill them.
To find out more, you have to turn to other players in the sector. Mediapart, a member of the EIC, interviewed four professionals working or having worked in the Central African Republic in recent years: a manager and a former manager of gold and diamond import/export offices, an employee of a mining company operating in the Central African Republic and a collector (a person who buys precious stones directly from miners to sell them to export offices). They wished to speak anonymously because of the risks to their safety. All confirm the link between Diamville and Wagner. They also claim that Diamville operates in areas not authorized by the Kimberley Process, most often through outlaw practices.
"We, [actors] in the [diamond] sector, know that it is the product of looting and others that pass through them [Diamville]. The products they take by force from people [linked to Wagner], from poor collectors and poor craftsmen," says the director of an import/export office. "Wherever there are mines and diggers, these people are there, armed. When someone [a minor] stumbles upon something good, they go to that person... There have even been murders like that, to take the merchandise of others."
"The Russians are all over the country, especially in mining areas. Where they control militarily, they exploit. And where they don't control militarily, they still pass from time to time, take what people have [as minerals], and kill them," said a second interlocutor, a former director of an import-export office.
Asked about such accusations, neither the Ministry of Mines of the CAR, through its Bureau of Evaluation and Control of Diamond and Gold, nor the company Diamville, nor the gemologist Svetlana Troitskaia wished to answer us.
Sometimes people prefer to keep their chairs rather than tell the truth.
According to these sources, Diamville could recover the diamonds it exports thanks to two other veins. The first is the seizures of the mining brigade, also called "Special Anti-Fraud Unit" of the Ministry of Mines. In the past, this brigade auctioned the proceeds of its seizures, which could be acquired by any import-export office. Two sources suspect that today the fruit of these seizures is now reserved for Diamville. Asked about the end of these auctions, the Ministry of Mines also did not wish to answer.
To secure large quantities of diamonds, the company would also have extended its influence over collectors. "The majority of independent collectors are financed by the Russians. They pre-finance them, and [in return] they sell them to Diamville. Today, an independent collector cannot work if he does not work with Wagner," says the former director of an export office, who estimates the amount of "pre-financing" paid by Diamville "between 80,000 euros and 200,000 euros" per person.
Finally, our four sources assure that the Central African authorities no longer exercise any control over the activities of their Russian allies in the mining sector. One of them reports the misadventure of employees of the Ministry of Mines who would have wanted to go and inspect, last May, the gold mine of Ndassima, recently fallen into the Russian escarcelle: "hunted like thugs" and "threatened", "twice".
"The minister may not answer you because this company [Diamville], it's special ... This is problematic. And sometimes, people prefer to keep their chairs rather than tell the truth," said a Central African civil servant working in a ministry solicited as part of this investigation.
Wagner diamonds sent to Europe
Official diamond export figures from the Central African Republic – which the Bangui authorities did not wish to disclose but obtained from other sources – list a total of 2019.2022 carats exported by Diamville abroad between October 996 and June 56.
A figure "very very low", which probably represents the emerged part of the company's activities, says the former director of export office. "It's very, very little, considering the number of collectors and craftsmen they have on the ground. In the environment, everyone knows that they are present throughout the territory," he said. "In three weeks, a collector can put 2000,2019 carats on the market. Normally, faced with a purchasing office that exports so little, the Ministry of Mines must react, ask questions, necessarily. Why didn't he do it?" In the Central African Republic, in <>, diamond smuggling is widespread, even "dominant", according to the USAID report.
Even if they potentially reveal only part of the company's activities, the official figures for Diamville are instructive. They reveal that, while the majority of diamonds officially sold by the company are to Dubai, some have also been sold to Europe. In October 2019, according to official export figures compiled by the Central African government, the Wagner-linked company exported 296 carats to Belgium.
In Switzerland, according to customs statistics, the country imports 2022 million francs worth of diamonds in October 200, a quarter of which comes from Belgium. This monthly figure has remained stable for the last ten years. It is therefore definitely on the side of Brussels that we must focus. What controls were carried out by the European Union (EU) authorities to ensure that these diamonds were not linked to illegal activities or possible human rights violations? When questioned, the European Commission referred us to the responsibilities of the Member States. Belgian customs, questioned on 1 December, had not yet responded at the time of writing.
Since December 2021, Wagner has been placed on the European and Swiss sanctions list for "serious violations and abuses in the field of human rights" committed by its employees, including in the Central African Republic. Since then, European companies and individuals have been prohibited from doing business with Wagner. But several of the companies belonging to the group are not mentioned by name. M Finance or Lobaye Invest, for example, are not on the European sanctions list, even though they are on the US Treasury sanctions list.
The final destination of these diamonds still remains a mystery.